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During what was a trying season at Visalia’s El Diamante High School, it was natural for Mitchell Leppke to drag his head down.
El Diamante had won just one game all year, coming away with a 1-9 record overall and a 1-4 mark in league play when it was all said and done. But Leppke kept plugging away and never stopped fighting, ultimately finishing with 10 sacks and one fumble recovery to become the only player at the school to secure first team all-league honors.
“When I learned that I got that, it kind of brought tears to my eyes,” Leppke said. “I worked so hard for that to play d-end and I was trying to gain weight because I was too small. I started at 190 and when the season ended I was like 200, 205.”
However, the road to get here wasn’t an easy one, as Leppke – now a linebacker at Fresno’s San Joaquin Memorial High School after playing defensive end at El Diamonte – returned to the game once he became a freshman.
Leppke wanted to play basketball, yet when he arrived at school, numerous kids saw his size and knew that maybe basketball didn’t need to be his sport.
Maybe football would be it in the long run.
“When I got to my school a bunch of kids were like, ‘Hey, you should play some football. You’re pretty big.’ I was like, ‘Alright, I’ll give it a shot,’” Leppke said. “And I’ve been playing since freshman year. I played a little bit in like seventh and eighth grade, but then I quit. And then junior season I was d-end.”
A couple years in, those words rang true when Leppke compiled that 10-sack junior campaign while notching the postseason recognition.
But Leppke wasn’t the prototypical Division I size at defensive end. He was only 200 pounds, so his coach asked him if he wanted to switch positions to linebacker.
“I was like, ‘Sure,’” Leppke said. “And I put on some weight. I’ve put on like 45 pounds since. I’m 245, so I wanted to bulk up to be the right size, and I obviously need speed with that because I don’t just want to be big. And then I transferred to San Joaquin Memorial in Fresno. I’m now playing middle backer.”
Over the past six months at the linebacker spot, Leppke is comfortable and transitioning well to the new position.
Where Leppke has seen immense growth is in his hips – an aspect his trainers he sees a couple times per week mentioned to him.
“I’ve been growing a lot because I’ve been going and looking at my past camps I’ve been at, and you could see getting better and moving more smoothly at all of them,” Leppke said.
And Leppke’s first college offer arrived Tuesday evening from Mount Marty University in South Dakota..
City colleges have reached out and said if he does not find what he is looking for, they have a spot open for him. And Leppke also said a majority of the college he’s talked to want to see his film at linebacker.
Regardless, all Leppke wants is an opportunity to compete at the next level.
“I’ll play football for anyone,” Leppke said. “I don’t care if it’s DI, DII, DIII, NAIA, JUCO. I just want to play some football for whoever wants me.”
This season, Leppke hopes to improve his vocal skills with his San Joaquin Memorial team and also bring the program to even greater heights following SJM’s incredible three-year run prior to his arrival – featuring three Central Section titles, one Northern California championship and one runner-up finish in the state championship game.
“I want to be able to be more of a leader on and off the field,” Leppke said. “Last year I didn’t really talk a lot. I was just a quiet guy, did my thing, and now since I’m at a new school I want to motivate my team. I’m coming from a school that didn’t really win anything and I’m at a school that has a three-peat in the valley championship and played in state, so that’s a big thing. They take it really serious over at my new school.”
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