Tuesday, May 24, 2022 | 5:56 p.m
Junior running back Braylan Lovelace and the Leechburg Football Team have never had a problem getting excited about games since the team made the playoffs for the first time in 32 years last season.
For that, the Blue Devils have Phil Collins and his 1981 hit “In the Air Tonight” to thank.
“When the drums come in, we all stand up and get cheered,” Lovelace said.
Of course, the classic 1980s hit shouldn’t get too much credit for Leechburg having its first winning season in more than 30 years. It was Lovelace and a team of dedicated football players supported by the community that made this possible.
“Anyone who puts on a Leechburg jersey or puts on a helmet wins with us,” said Lovelace. “They are always with us at every game. Every victory we have is with them. Every loss we have is with them, and every playoff win is with them.”
Leechburg coach Randy Walters taught his players a saying, “Your dream through me.” He got the idea from Tampa Bay Buccaneers center Ryan Jensen, and the team used the slogan to put community first and dedicated every game to them. Walters said Lovelace embraced the adage and his leadership skills helped carry the team.
“He’s like nothing I’ve ever had and I’ve had some phenomenal kids in my career. He’s just everything in one person and he’s a great leader,” Walters said. “He knows how to read a room. He knows when to step in with kids. He knows when to slap someone on the bottom and when to be a clown and fool around. He just has everything.”
Lovelace’s leadership qualities were carried over to the football field. In his junior season, he had a career year in which he rushed for 1,506 yards and 28 touchdowns. Lovelace credits much of his success to former Leechburg running back Jake Blumer.
“I was behind Jake Blumer, who was pretty good, and I got to go home with a lot of new things from him, so I was ready when it came time to be the starter for the team,” Lovelace said. “I just learned a lot of things as a freshman and it was quite rewarding to get the results we got last season.”
Lovelace became a starter in his sophomore season when he rushed for 993 yards. With success in his sophomore and junior seasons, Lovelace is just 3 yards away from a total of 3,000 rushing yards.
Last season, the junior had seven games in which he rushed for 100 yards and two games in which he rushed for 200 yards. He scored seven touchdowns against Imani Christian on October 22.
His performance helped lead the team to a 9–3 record and their first playoff appearance since 1988. The 6-foot-3 running back knew he needed to produce for the team when he was promoted as a starter. Still, Lovelace knows the run was a team effort.
“My teammates have a huge influence on everything,” Lovelace said. “We always pick each other up and we’re basically like brothers out there. When we do something wrong, we are honest with each other. They pick it up and push me through a lot of things.”
Lovelace noted that Dylan Cook and Tommy Burke had tremendous influence as seniors and as leaders. Cook and Burke were vocal throughout the season, often giving the team halftime speeches in the locker room. He also recognized all the seniors on the team and the impact they had on the community in giving Leechburg a successful season.
In the postseason, the team won its first playoff game in over 30 years, defeating California 28-7. Lovelace rushed for 168 yards and scored three touchdowns.
“A lot of people doubted we would ever do it because we went 5-5, then 5-5 again, then 3-4. We couldn’t get through this successful season,” said Lovelace. “Then there was our moment to get that playoff win at home. That was a big deal for us.”
Lovelace’s performance on the field and his success in school helped him earn six offers from Division I schools. He received offers from Toledo, Army, Bucknell, Brown, Columbia and Penn.
It’s not every day that a player gets an offer from the prestigious West Point Army or from an Ivy League school, let alone three. Lovelace is still a junior and unsure where he will go to school.
“I wouldn’t have any of the offers I have now if it wasn’t for this coaching staff,” Lovelace said. “I think I’ve put myself out there and done something good for myself, but when they put me in the right positions to make the right play at the right time, I really feel like they’re doing a lot. Just talking to coach Walters and the coaches helped me a lot.”
Although the coaching staff and his teammates have been of great help, it is his family that means the most to him. Lovelace said his mum always made sure he kept up with his schoolwork and his dad does everything he can to support him. His father even drove him seven hours to and from a college visit.
“You make a lot of sacrifices for me and that means a lot to me. My parents and the rest of my family are out there at almost every game, no matter how far away it is,” Lovelace said. “They are always the loudest in the stands. It’s a big help for me and gives me that extra boost to do what I need to do.”
Lovelace continues to prepare for his senior season. Walters knows his work in the weight room and work ethic will see him do even better next season.
“I think he’ll be a little bit stronger. He gains some weight. He’s carrying about 200 pounds right now, so he’s getting a little bigger and stronger,” Walters said. “He has phenomenal leg strength and is getting fatter in the upper body.”
Walters said whenever anyone needs a spotter in the weight room, Lovelace is there. Whenever a teammate needs a cheer, Lovelace is there. Walters said the sky is the limit for Lovelace and he can’t wait to have him back for one final season.
“He’s just a leader of this group,” Walters said.
“I’m a pretty lucky guy because I’ve got a lot of great kids, but he’s just, he’s just a little bit different to all of them.”