After an opening seven point win over rival Chatham-Glenwood, the Cylclones blew through the rest of their regular season schedule leaving devastation in their wake.
The average win margin was 42 points and most of the starters never saw the field in the 2nd half. Quarterback Pat Smith leads a potent offensive attack for SHG and Coach Leonard wouldn't trade him for any other signal-caller in the state.
"I can't say enough good things about (Pat) Smith," said Leonard. "Pat wasn't someone that we thought would be our quarterback a few years ago but now couldn't be more pleased with him.
"He (Smith) is very smart, athletic and he calls his own audible at the line-of-scrimmage. He'll change up protections and call his own plays.
"Pat has 52 career touchdown passes and he's extremely accurate. He only has two interceptions. He went 292 passes without throwing a pick. He's the quietest star you'd ever meet."
Smith threw for over 400 yards in last years opening round play-off loss and he set a conference record with 507 yards passing in a game this season. A record that would stand for only week because Oklahoma State bound quarterback Wes Lunt threw for 591 yards a week later.
"Pat Smith never gives up. He's a winner in every sense of the word." Leonard said.
When you think of past running backs that have gone through the SHG program, the first name that comes to mind has to be Kenni Burns but Leonard has had some good ones since including a pair of tailbacks that will give defensive coordinators nightmares.
"Tavian Whitaker and Chris Harris are as good as they get." Leonard said. "They are good but also so unselfish. They root for each other and that's rare these days.
"We run a lot of one back spread and sometimes we'll have both of them in the back-field but these two kids are so unselfish that they will do rock-paper-scissors to see who is going to start the game. It's rare and both are tremendous football players."
Those teams playing SHG better get in some extra conditioning. The Cyclones run the spread and they don't use the word huddle. In 2008, Eastern Michigan quarterback Andy Schmidt had 80 passing attempts in a game. That's still a D-1 record.
That's pretty impressive but SHG already has a game this year where they ran 87 plays from scrimmage.
"We try to run a play every time the ball is set," Coach Leonard explained. "We don't want to waste any time. Once the referee puts the ball down, we want it in play as soon as possible."
Sacred-Heart Griffin has some of the biggest wide receivers in the state as well led by tight end Connor Bland (6-4, 235). Wide receivers include Michael Revey (6-1, 200), Neal Aherin (6-2, 175), Mitch Trees (6-1, 170) and Carter Pranger (6-2, 205). They also are getting D-1 prospect Malik Turner (6-3, 204) back from an injury sustained at the beginning of the season.
Coach Leonard said his team struggled defensively a year ago but they've found their groove and have dominated on a weekly basis.
"Linebacker Kemper Youkin leads or team in tackles." Leonard said. "Connor Bland and Chris Harris both play both ways and are defensive standouts.
"I've got two really good defensive backs in Neal Aherin and Billy Fleichli. Those two guys will come up and hit. I'm really pleased with our defense and how they have stepped up this year."
When you've been coaching as long as Ken Leonard, you know what it takes to get to Champaign and the formula is pretty simple.
"You have to stay healthy and get lucky," Leonard explained. "We are a confident bunch and I love the way that this team prepares. They are focused.
"The play-offs are tough. You can't look past anyone and you have to execute, stay healthy and get lucky."
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