After brilliant junior year for Leechburg football, Braylan Lovelace still has more in store

Tuesday, May 24, 2022 | 5:56 PM

Junior running back Braylan Lovelace and the Leechburg football team never had a problem getting fired up for games as the team made its first playoff appearance in 32 years last season.

The Blue Devils can thank Phil Collins and his 1981 hit, “In the Air Tonight,” for that.

“When the drums come in, that’s when we all get up and get hyped,” Lovelace said.

The classic 1980s hit shouldn’t get too much credit for Leechburg having its first winning season in more than 30 years, of course. It was Lovelace and a team of devoted football players, supported by the community, who made that happen.

“Everybody that’s put on a Leechburg jersey or put on a helmet, they’re winning with us,” Lovelace said. “They’re always with us with every game. Every win 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: “Their dream through me.” He got the idea from Tampa Bay Buccaneers center Ryan Jensen, and the team used the slogan to put the community first, dedicating every game to them. Walters said Lovelace bought into the saying, 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 all wrapped up into one human being, and he’s a great leader,” Walters said. “He knows how to read a room. He knows when to get on kids. He knows when to pat someone on the butt and when to be a clown and to goof around. He’s just got it all.”

Lovelace’s leadership skills translated onto the football field. In his junior season, he had a career year, rushing for 1,506 yards and scoring 28 touchdowns. Lovelace credits a lot of his success to former Leechburg running back Jake Blumer.

“I was behind Jake Blumer, who was pretty good, and I got to walk away with a lot of new things from him, so when it came time for me to be the starter for the team, I was ready to go,” Lovelace said. “I just picked up a lot of things as a freshman, and it was pretty rewarding to get the results that we did last season.”

Lovelace became a starter his sophomore season, when he rushed for 993 yards. With the success in his sophomore and junior seasons, Lovelace is only 3 yards away from 3,000 total rushing yards.

Last season, the junior had seven games in which he rushed for more than 100 yards and two games in which he rushed for more than 200 yards. He scored seven touchdowns against Imani Christian on Oct. 22.

His production helped lead the team to a 9-3 record and its first playoff appearance since 1988. The 6-foot-3 running back knew he needed to produce for the team when he was promoted as the starter. Nonetheless, Lovelace knows the run was a team effort.

“My teammates have made a huge impact on everything,” Lovelace said. “We’re always picking up one another, and we’re basically like brothers out there. When we do something wrong, we’re honest with each other. They pick it up, and they push me through a lot of things.”

Lovelace noted that Dylan Cook and Tommy Burke had a tremendous impact as seniors and as leaders. Cook and Burke were vocal during the season and often gave the team halftime speeches in the locker room. He also acknowledged all the seniors on the team and the impact they had on the community by giving Leechburg a winning season.

In the postseason, the team won its first playoff game in over 30 years, defeating California, 28-7. Lovelace ran for 168 yards and scored three touchdowns.

“A lot of people doubted that we could ever do that because we went 5-5, then 5-5 again and then 3-4. We couldn’t push through that winning season,” Lovelace said. “Then there was our moment to get that home playoff win. That was a big thing for us.”

Lovelace’s production on the field and his success in school helped him receive 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 receives an offer from the prestigious Army at West Point or from an Ivy League school, let alone three. Lovelace is still just a junior and is unsure of where he’ll go to school.

“I wouldn’t have any of the offers I have right now if it wasn’t for that coaching staff,” said Lovelace. “I think I put myself out there and I do good for myself, but with them putting 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, that’s really helped me a lot.”

Although the coaching staff and his teammates have been a huge help, his family means the most to him. Lovelace said his mother always made sure he kept up with his schoolwork, and his father does anything he can to support him. His father even drove him seven hours to and from a college visit.

“They make a lot of sacrifices for me, and it means a lot. My parents and the rest of my family, they’re out there almost at every game no matter how far it is,” Lovelace said. “They’re always the loudest in the stands. It’s a big help for me, and it gives me that extra push to do what I have to do.”

Lovelace continues to prepare for his senior season. Walters knows that he will be even better next season because of his work in the weight room and his work ethic.

“I think he’ll be a little bit more powerful. He’s putting some weight on. He’s carrying about 200 pounds right now, so he gets a little bigger and stronger,” said Walters. “He’s got phenomenal leg strength and is getting thicker and thicker in the upper body.”

Walters said whenever someone needs a spotter in the weight room, Lovelace is there. Whenever a teammate needs to be cheered up, Lovelace is there. Walters said the sky is the limit for Lovelace, and he can’t wait to have him back for one last season.

“He’s just a leader of that 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 than all of them.”


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