LAKE CITY — He knew when he put on the helmet and stood on the field looking out at the bleachers.
Lake City senior Miles McLeod, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound wrecking ball of a linebacker as a three-year starter in the middle of the defense for the Trojans and a powerful force offensively as a fullback in running situations, decided to say yes to the offer of Saginaw Valley State University to join the program there as a preferred walk-on after seeing the facilities during a recent visit and being transported by golf cart to the home field of the Cardinals.
“They took me on a golf-cart tour of the campus and the weight room and all the facilities,‘ McLeod said on Tuesday afternoon after the signing ceremony outside the gym with family, coaches, teammates and friends.
“I still wasn’t sure (if I wanted to play college football) until they took me to the field. I walked onto the field and they asked me to put on a helmet. Then I knew this is where I want to be and where I want to play.‘
Ironically, McLeod was recruited by Saginaw Valley not as a linebacker, but as an “H-Back,‘ a hybrid blocker and ball carrier in the backfield.
McLeod was used as a sledge hammer in the backfield this season by Trojan head coach Kyle Smith and made an impact, scoring five times on short, powerful thrusts into the end zone or when the Trojans needed a yard or two to net a first down.
When McLeod wasn’t running the ball or blocking on offense, he was roaming the middle of an aggressive, physical Trojan defense, tracking down opposing runners and frequently stopping them with ferocious, highlight-reel takedowns. McLeod accumulated more than 300 career tackles in his three years as a defensive starter on the varsity, including 116 stops this season while helping the Trojans post another undefeated regular season and advance to the Division 7 state semifinals, earning first-team All-State accolades, among many other honors.
“Miles definitely has the work ethic and dedication that’s needed to compete at the next level,‘ Smith said.
“This first year he’ll be gray-shirted or red-shirted and that’ll give him time to get bigger, faster, stronger and prepare for the speed of the college game. Miles will be ready when the time comes.
“He is also an excellent leader. There’s a lot more to leading than just being a rah-rah guy on the sideline. Miles was a leader for us in the locker room, too, and he led in a positive way.‘
Lake City defensive coordinator Kevin Kent believes McLeod will shine in whatever capacity Saginaw Valley chooses to use him.
“Miles has a great football IQ and he has a lot of flexibility,‘ Kent said.
“They can use him at H-back or linebacker or they could even get him to bulk up and use him as a down lineman. He has a willingness to do what you ask him to do and he always gives 100 percent of himself. Miles is very dependable.‘
McLeod said another factor that drew him to Saginaw Valley during his visit there was the feeling of family that he sensed among the players.
“That was really important to me because our team had so much of the feel of a family,‘ he said.
McLeod said going through the adversity of the past year with coach Smith and wife Linda and their daughter Harper as she was recovering at DeVos Children’s Hospital not only brought a deeper sense of closeness among the team and the coaches but helped McLeod to appreciate the closeness of the Lake City community in a greater way and the importance of family.
“It changed me as a person,‘ he said.
McLeod plans to major in business management and hopes to one day start his own local business in heating and cooling.