One giant ‘Leep’ for Fairland All-Ohio football standout

Published 2:51 am Friday, March 3, 2023

Fairland Dragons’ All-Ohio football standout Steeler Leep signed a letter-of-intent to play for Northwood University in Midland, Michigan. Attending the signing ceremony were: seated from left to right, an empty chair with a Fairland hat in honor of Steeler’s late father Rusty Leep, Steeler Leep, mother Shawna Leep and sister Holli Leep. (Tim Gearhart Sports Photo for The Ironton Tribune)

By Jim Walker

PROCTORVILLE — Steeler Leep said he could describe his whole recruiting process in one word, “Hectic.”

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But the Fairland Dragons’ senior football standout probably felt more like he was on an emotional rollercoaster throughout his recruiting process that saw it finally end on Thursday when he signed a national letter-of-intent to play for the Northwood University Timberwolves in Midland, Michigan.

Steeler Leep

The Fairland multi-sport talent originally contacted NCAA Division 2 program Gannon University and made plans to go on an official visit and it appeared that was going to be his landing spot.

“I went up there and loved it,” said Leep. “I realized that my size and my weight, I’m not going to the NFL. So when I made my decision, I had to focus on what truly matters and that was my future. Northwood provided me with the best opportunity for me to be successful in the future.

“I did my research on it, I go up and I like it and I’m going to commit. Some unfortunate things happened and I couldn’t get up there until the last days of January. (Head coach Dusty Buerer) called me three days before I go up on my official visit and say, ‘hey sorry, we’re out of athletic money.”

Leep had already told other schools he had made his decision but now he had to reverse field and contact those same programs in hopes of getting an offer.

“It definitely tested my manhood to reach back out to those coaches that I said ‘no’ to. That was a hectic process to go on more visits to West Virginia Wesleyan, Wash, Findlay. I enjoyed all those places. But then eight days after my birthday (Gannon) called me back and said ‘hey, we have more money for you’ and I said, ‘I’m in,’ Don’t give that money away,” said Leep whose birthday is Jan. 28.

But then Gannon reversed field, too. 

A coach from Gannon called on the Monday before the signing day of Wednesday, Feb. 1, and apologized because “we miscalculated. We don’t have any money for you.”

Leep discussed the situation with his mother, Shawna, and then his youth minister Dave Trevathan who simply said, “Trust God. He has a plan for you.”

And then the plan began to unfold.

Leep went to visit Northwood University, a private school with an undergraduate enrollment of 2,100 plus.

“I actually loved it,” said Leep who then turned to Ironton football coach Trevon Pendleton for help.

“I reached out to coach Pendleton and said, ‘Hey coach, I know you’ve got a lot of connections. I have so much respect for you and your program and how you market your players.’ He actually helped me out a lot. His brother (Jarred) played college ball with the coach at Northwood and he got me in contact with them and I loved it up there.”

Northwood plays in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference (G-MAC) but used to belong to the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference which is considered the best league in NCAA Division 2.

“They used to play Ferris State and Grand Valley State. All those powerhouses and they were the only private school in that conference. They’re automatically at a disadvantage being the only private school in that league,” said Leep.

“Moving from the GLIAC to the G-MAC they have all the best facilities. They have a fantastic weight room and all these things that can make me the best player I can be.”

And that is saying something considering Leep is already a pretty good player.

Leep had 33 carries for 466 yards and four scores, caught 23 passes for 536 yards and 3 touchdowns, had 73 tackles on defense with four interceptions and 11 pass breakups.

Playing running back, wide receiver and defensive back, the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Leep earned first team Southeast All-District honors in Division 5. He was selected third team All-Ohio as a wide receiver.

“Most of my offers were to play defensive back. I love defensive back. I love coming up and tackling people. I like covering. But they actually offered me as an athlete,” Leep said of Northwood. “They hinted on starting me on the offensive side of the ball at running back. They said they didn’t sign very many running backs in this class.

“I told them I didn’t mind what position I play. I just want to get on the field. I love the game of football so much. If I get the opportunity to play, whether that’s special teams, heck, if you put me on the offensive line I don’t care. I love winning football games and I love playing football.”

One major honor is OhioThe Wendy’s High School Heisman symbolizes great ability combined with diligence, perseverance and hard work. The state winners receive a $1,000 scholarship to the college they attend.

“It was amazing. To be able to be up for the award you have to display a high GPA and some good statistics on the field of course,” said Leep. “Whenever I was filling out my application, I thought I can win my school. I won my school. I had to write five essays showing how I displayed leadership on the field and off the field.”

Leep is also student council president and treasurer of the BETA Club.

“I was sitting in class and my guidance counselor said, ‘Steeler, come here, please.’ I thinkI’m in trouble. She said you’re the first person in our school to win the High School Heisman. I said, ‘what do you mean? Someone wins one every year.’ She said, ‘No. You’re the one boy they chose from Ohio.’ It’s definitely an honor. And it’s not due to me. It’s my coaches, my teachers, my mom, my dad. I just sat back and listened to those who know more than you.”

Football has always been a part not only of Steeler’s life but his family.

“It’s three words. I love football. I live for it,” said Leep.

Steeler’s great uncle J.D. Leep threw the first touchdown pass to Steeler’s grandfather Gary Leep for the first touchdown on the current Fairland football field.

“The Leep last name has been part of Fairland forever,” said Steeler.

Steeler’s father Rusty was a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan. He actually wanted to name his son Hunter but mom said there was already a Hunter in the family and she suggested Steeler.

“He was surprised and said, ‘Really?’ We weren’t so sure so we slept on it and they decided on it,” said Shawna Leep. “I wasn’t a Steelers fan but I became one.”

Leep does have other interests besides football. He said he doesn’t play any instruments but he is a singer.

“I love singing country music,” he said. “Chris Stapleton is my favorite. Tennessee Whiskey is my favorite (song) of his.

“My dad loved old music. So he had Sirius XM and I grew up listening to 90s on nine, 80s on eight. I could tell you almost every word of almost every 80s song, almost every 90s song, because we drove to Disney World 16 hours down, 16 hours back, straight 80s, straight 90s. We went on so many trips like that. That’s something I’ll always remember about him.”

Rusty Leep died in January of 2022 after battling cancer for eight years.

“He fought every day. He mowed the grass. He’d go to work. He never felt sorry for himself,” said Steeler. “He’s my inspiration for everything I do. When there’s that one more rep I don’t want to do, I think my dad didn’t want to get up and do anything with his chemo pump on. I thought, ‘quit being so lazy and quick being so soft and get that rep done.’ My dad was a huge stickler on that. Don’t be soft. Don’t be a wimp. He was one of those guys to never let you see him cry. I was in the eighth grade and playing at Raceland and actually fractured my femur. The first words out of my dad’s mouth weren’t ‘Are you OK son?” It was “rub some dirt on it.’ I think that’s something that’s needed.”

Leep plans to major in marketing.

“They offer a fantastic program. It’s an accelerated program in which I can get my Masters (degree) in four years,” said Leep

 “I’ve already transferred a year’s worth of credit I got through classes I took at (Ohio University Southern). Even if I get red-shirted, that just prolongs that Masters and I’ll have an easier workload than most people because of the hard work I put in during high school.”