Orono Blake Leischow practiced Monday, April 18, 2016 at Orono High school in Orono, MN.] Blake Leischow has signed to play at Duke. Jerry Holt /Jerry.Holt@Startribune.com
They’re size 10½, pretty average for your typical 18-year-old male, and by themselves, they’re just another pair of feet. But put a pair of lacrosse cleats or football spikes on Orono senior Blake Leischow’s tootsies and they become something special.
Hummingbird-quick, starting and stopping like a cabdriver weaving through rush hour traffic, Leischow’s amazingly quick feet elevate him from a fine athlete into one who draws envy from opponents and teammates alike. He can make an ordinary play extraordinary, turn a defender dizzy and explode through rail-thin gaps that only he knows exist.
“He has,” says Orono boys’ lacrosse coach Kevin Whiteis, “the best, quickest first step I’ve ever seen.”
Whiteis was not the only lacrosse coach to marvel at Leischow’s natural abilities. College coaches across the country saw the same thing.
“That’s the first thing college coaches notice,” said Rob Horn, the boys’ lacrosse coach at Benilde-St. Margaret’s who grew close to Leischow as his former club team coach. “The ability to change direction and explode is not something you see often in college lacrosse.”
To Leischow, his speed and agility, while eye-popping to others, are simply who he is.
“I’ve always had nimble feet and good lateral quickness,” he said. “In youth football, my nickname was ‘Juke and Jive.’ ”
It’s because of those amazing feet that Leischow recently signed to play at Duke — college lacrosse royalty — next year. Duke sits in the cradle of the East Coast lacrosse hotbed, one of a handful of legendary programs in the Mid-Atlantic. In the lacrosse world, the Duke name carries the weight of, well, Duke basketball. It’s not often a Minnesota lacrosse player is recruited to play at such a prestigious program.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to play at that high of a level,” Leischow said. “It’s a very prestigious place. It’s kind of overwhelming, but they make it feel like one big family.”
While lacrosse is Leischow’s future, he said it will be tough to give up his other athletic passion — football. He was a varsity player for four years, topping it off with a spectacular senior season.
Leischow was a slotback who spearheaded the Spartans’ three-pronged attack that included quarterback Hank Seward and running back David McCuskey. Orono made up for its lack of size with speed and stamina and came within one point of defeating eventual Class 4A champion Becker in the Section 6 finals. Leischow scored all three Spartan touchdowns in the 22-21, last-minute loss.
“I think about that game every day,” he said. “Becker was a great team, but I think we deserved to win that game.”
Leischow said looking forward to his lacrosse future helped him put the loss behind him. He dedicated his offseason to getting bigger and stronger without sacrificing quickness.
“I’m about 5-10, 185 pounds right now, as opposed to about 165 pounds when football ended,” he said. “I’ve been working with a trainer to make sure I’m putting on muscle without losing any speed.”
That size, Horn said, will be needed to succeed at Duke.
“It’s a big step up to college lacrosse,” Horn said. “Not everyone can do it. But I call Leischow a Swiss Army knife kind of player. His athletic abilities make him more versatile and will probably give him opportunities at more than one position.”
For the next month and a half, however, Leischow’s attention is solely on helping Orono go as far as it can.
“Every year, I remember listening to the seniors talk about enjoying your time here because it goes by really fast. And now that I’m a senior, I realize they were right,” he said. “What I want to look back on is playing games with my best friends and how much fun it was.”