Shoulder injury turned star linebacker Leffel into running back for Lions
Keats Leffel was supposed to be one of the top linebackers in the SPC this season, but his shoulder had other ideas.
Faced with the prospect of season-ending surgery, Leffel and his St. Mark’s coaches came up with a different plan for his senior year. Instead of being one of the Lions’ leading tacklers, he now stars on offense as the team’s leading rusher.
The issue began toward the end of last season when Leffel dislocated his shoulder but was able to finish the year. Flash forward to halftime of the season opener on Aug. 26, and the same shoulder popped out.
Leffel’s doctors gave the St. Mark’s defensive captain a choice to avoid risking further injury — end his season or switch positions.
“I ended up moving to running back, and I’ve loved it,” Leffel said. “It was hard news to take, but I wanted to help the team however I could.”
Leffel hadn’t played running back consistently since middle school but showed no signs of rust. In his first three games on offense, Leffel averaged 106 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns.
“I was definitely surprised — something in me just kind of clicked. Our offensive line gave me a lot of nice holes to run through,” Leffel said. “It’s been a very nice transition. I’m hitting people in other ways, and I love hard physical football.”
The switch has bolstered the St. Mark’s offense, too. The Lions were primarily rotating two sophomores at running back to complement the passing game led by quarterback Asher Wilburn.
“He had gotten so few reps heading into that first game,” said St. Mark’s head coach Harry Flaherty. “He’s as tough a guy as we have. I was surprised how quickly he picked up our run schemes.”
Leffel is a three-sport standout for the Lions. His ability to compete in soccer and baseball depends on whether he will have surgery immediately after football season or postpone it further, which might impact whether he plays college football in 2023.
Coincidentally, fellow St. Mark’s captain Blake Malouf has thrived in a similar move this season, with a broken hand forcing him to move from receiver to defensive back.
“I’m thankful that they’re both able to continue competing during their senior seasons,” Flaherty said. “They’ve invested so much in this program. It’s certainly been a big boost to our team.”