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Golden Valley's Leon Jacobs: The rise of the idle

Golden Valley senior took two years off football, then returned with authority

Posted: October 30, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: October 30, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Golden Valley senior Leon Jacobs, a transfer from Bishop Montgomery High in Torrance, has come on strong this season. Golden Valley senior Leon Jacobs, a transfer from Bishop Montgomery High in Torrance, has come on strong this season.
Golden Valley senior Leon Jacobs, a transfer from Bishop Montgomery High in Torrance, has come on strong this season.

Sitting alone at a lunch table last spring in the cafeteria at Golden Valley High School, Leon Jacobs couldn’t help but ask, “How did I get myself into this?”

A lot had changed in just a few months time for Jacobs, who transferred to Golden Valley from Bishop Montgomery in February.

At that time, he had to get used to a new school in a new city and all of his familiar surroundings were miles away in Long Beach, where he grew up.

“I was just discombobulated because all my friends are (in Long Beach) and I was 16 and I had to move on with my life,” says Jacobs, now a 17-year-old senior.

It’s been a year of changes for Jacobs, the running back who seemingly appeared out of thin air in the prep football world this season.

At 842 yards on 129 carries, he’s risen to become one of the top rushers in the Foothill League. He suffered a hip injury two weeks ago, which kept him out of the majority of last week’s game against Saugus, but he says he plans to play in Friday’s season finale against Valencia.

Regardless, Jacobs’ statistics and his physical style of play have kept the phone of Golden Valley head football coach Robert Fisher ringing with college recruiters on the other end.

Fisher says they all ask the same question, “Why haven’t we heard of this guy?”

The truth is they weren’t looking in the right places.

From age 6 up until about three months ago, Jacobs devoted all his energy toward basketball, while other sports were mere afterthoughts.

He played tackle football only once before, as a freshman at Bishop Montgomery High of Torrance. But nothing other than that.

No Pop Warner, no YMCA. Just lots and lots of basketball, including three years of varsity ball at Bishop Montgomery.
“As soon as I saw him, I was pretty excited because I (tried to convince him to play football) in the spring, and every time I saw him he kept saying, ‘No thank you, coach. I’m a basketball player,’” Fisher says.

Eventually, the quick-witted senior would change his mind.

Jacobs’ family moved to Canyon Country in hopes of providing better opportunities for him and his younger siblings, including younger brother Chibueze, now a freshman at Golden Valley.

Toward the end of a basketball recruiting trip in July, he collected his thoughts and came to the realization that he had nothing to lose and everything to gain by trying out for football.

“We knew he had the potential to be a really good player — very athletic, very strong for his age,” says Kareem Mutrie, athletic director and assistant basketball coach at Bishop Montgomery.

Mutrie, who was a neighbor of Jacobs and a friend of the family, tried to convince Jacobs to play football after seeing what he was capable of when he played varsity as a freshman.

“He was definitely talented in football,” Mutrie says. “He played a little running back, he played a little linebacker while he was here, and he did a tremendous job. He was like a man playing with boys his freshman year.”

Finally, on July 22 (Jacobs easily recalls the exact date), he gave in to the persuasion.

By July 31, he was at his first football practice.

By mid-September, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior was the team’s clear starting running back and was being looked up to by teammates, who deemed him a grown man and called him “Leon the Phenom.”

“He seems like he’s been here for four years,” Fisher jokes.

Jacobs didn’t feel the same way at first. He had to lift a lot of weights and had to learn the details of the game in a very limited amount of time.

“I’ve had to learn everything in football, the motions, the cuts and the emotions of the game,” Jacobs says.

Not long after the season began though, Jacobs became the Grizzlies’ top offensive weapon and was bowling his way through opposing defenders.

Jacobs possesses all the critical skills of an effective running back. He’s fast, big, powerful and fearless.

He can run between the tackles, between the guards, or he can bounce it outside and break away for big gains.

Recently, he’s also been learning how to play outside linebacker.

“I know he’s very explosive,” says Jacobs’ dad, Tony. “He’s going to be a very good player, and that’s why I told him that he’d be better at football than basketball.”

Though it took a lot of quick learning and adjusting for Jacobs when he got to Golden Valley, Tony says he was confident his eldest of four children would have ample opportunities to play in college.

Jacobs wasn’t so convinced at first after he looked up Golden Valley’s recent records in basketball and football. He didn’t like what he saw.

Despite his initial reluctance and despite the team sitting at 0-9 this season, Jacobs says his perception of the school has markedly changed thanks to his quick acceptance into the community.

“Now that I’m on a team, it’s different because I was on the outside (before),” Jacobs says. “But it’s different now that I’m on the inside. ... I like the people in this school.”

As he once asked himself at the lunch table, what did Jacobs get himself into?

With schools like Fresno State, Nevada and Wake Forest interested in him for football, it’s hard to say just yet.

“He’s doubling his options,” Fisher says. “He’s really opening up multiple doors by playing two sports at a very high level.”



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