Male Area Athlete of the Week: Leidenfrost’s experience shows for Pioneers
Pierz's Leidenfrost using last year's experience to lead unbeaten Pioneers this season.
Michael Leidenfrost knows what it takes to win big games.
The senior running back helped the No. 3 ranked Pierz Pioneers get a win over No. 7 ranked Rockford last week with 135 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
“We just moved the ball a lot better than we have,” Leidenfrost said. “I thought our line did a really good job. We knew if we came out and ran the ball well we would have a good chance of winning. Coming into the game that’s what we really wanted to do.
“We just wanted to do what we do and take away what they wanted to do. We knew they wanted to pass and have a good running back. We came out and stopped the run and picked off a couple of passes and that was big to take away some of their strengths.”
Last year, Leidenfrost caught the game-winning, 48-yard touchdown in the Class 3A State Semifinals and made the game-sealing interception on the next drive.
This year, Leidenfrost has had to do more of the same.
“Michael is a heck of a player,” Pierz head coach Dan Saehr said. “He is a great leader for us. The kid never comes off the field offense or defense. He’s handled the ball a lot for us when it’s crunch time and he’s come through for us.”
Last season, Leidenfrost rushed for 679 yards which was third on the team behind seniors Matthias Algarin and Blake Kowalczyk. He also caught 11 passes for 271 yards which was second-best on the team.
“Mike has started for three for us,” Saehr said. “He started for us last year and he has been a part of some big games for us. We were excited about him this year because he came back faster and stronger.”
The experience has shown in big ways for the Pioneers.
“The more reps you get, the better you get,” Saehr said. “Mike is just a gamer. He is very well respected by his teammates and coaches. Other kids look to him to see what to do and Mike does. He works extremely hard at practice.
“Experience helps anybody. Going into the year we basically just had Michael coming back as a returning starter. He was well aware of it and his teammates were well aware of it. He’s used that experience to teach the younger players what it’s like to play in big games. He’s not only played at the varsity level, but at a very high level of the varsity level.”
Leidenfrost added: “Experience helps. Just being there you know what you have to do. A lot of guys look up to that stuff, so it helps.”
Leidenfrost plays everywhere on the field. He plays safety on defense and is the kick and punt returner for the Pioneers. In the backfield, he is dangerous off a handoff and running routes as a pass-catcher.
“We kind of call him our Swiss Army Knife,” Saehr said. “You can put him in the backfield, put him out wide, put him in the slot, he kicks and punts returns for us and the reason he can do that is his knowledge of the game.”
What sets Leidenfrost apart is his football IQ.
“He is very football smart,” Saehr said. “He plays free safety for us, but he could tell you everybody’s job on defense. He’s a very, very vocal leader for us. As impressive as his physical traits are his football knowledge and IQ is even better.”
Saehr has yet to lose a game as Pioneers head coach and he credits that to leaders like Leidenfrost.
“He leads by example,” he said. “People look up to him because he does things the right way. He’s gotten to be vocal and he’s doing a great job for us.”
It’s been hard for Leidenfrost to realize there is no state tournament this year to go back-to-back. He hopes Pierz can finish strong in the playoffs.
“We are just going to try and get better every week and hopefully we are playing our best by the time playoffs come,” he said.
By comparison, Leidenfrost shows flashes of what last year’s Dispatch Player of Year Mattias Algarin does for Pierz’s offense.
“You can put them both anywhere,” Saehr said. “They are both smart football players and they understand football. You could put them somewhere and they would grasp it in a couple of plays.”
Saehr said Leidenfrost is a joy to coach.
“He is as good as it gets,” he said. “He’s a yessir type of guy. He never makes excuses and is very hard on himself. He’s a true Pioneer.”
Next year, Leidenfrost plans to work on the farm instead of going to school. He wants to finish his football career with a win.
“I’m hoping we make it all the way to the end,” he said. “We are very fortunate we haven't had any shutdowns yet, we’ve played all our games. A lot of schools are not as lucky as us. Coming to the end, I hope we can end the season playing our best football.”
Other notable performances:
Football: Owen Miller, Aitkin, rushed for 137 yards on 19 carries and scored two touchdowns.
Zak Olsson, Verndale, rushed for 109 yards on 29 carries and one touchdown.
Bode Magnuson, Pequot Lakes, rushed for 140 yards and threw for 61 yards with four total touchdowns.
Sivert Klefsaas, Staples-Motley, rushed for 208 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown.
Position: Running Back
Highlights: He rushed for 135 yards on 24 carries and three touchdowns