ROME TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Steeler Leep is in the choir at church and performs at talent shows, but mostly the gifted vocalist sings the praises of his coaches, teammates and even opponents.
The Fairland High School safety/wide receiver has starred through three games this season. The 6-foot, 180-pound junior averages 31 yards per catch, hauling in four passes for 124 yards. He also owns two interceptions. Leep impressed mightily Sept. 3 in the Dragons’ 20-14 overtime loss at Ironton, making a dazzling leaping grab of a pass between two defenders and picking off a pass in the end zone.
“Steeler Leep plays with great instincts, has good burst, great vision, amazing leadership qualities, and he comes downhill and tackles well,” Dragons coach Melvin Cunningham said. “Add that to being an amazing student in the classroom. This equals a steal.”
Leep, though, credits others for his and his team’s success. Fairland is 2-1 heading into Friday’s 7 p.m. homecoming game with Rock Hill (1-1) and is seventh in Division VI, Region 23 in the Harbin Computer Ratings, which determines the playoffs.
“The game’s just slowing down for me,” Leep said of his improvement. “I’m getting older. Coach Cunningham has done a great job, especially defensively — I like defense better than offense. He played defensive back in college. He gave me a lot of tips. Our whole secondary has gotten much better in three games. Our coaching staff is full of amazing people. Their goal is to raise good men. By doing that, we’ll have a good football team.”
Cunningham knows football, especially defense and particularly the secondary. He was an All-American cornerback at Marshall University and went to camp with the Miami Dolphins.
The veteran coach who led Fairland to the Elite Eight last season taught Leep and the rest of the Dragons to respect every foe. Leep said that direction will be applied Friday night when Fairland plays Rock Hill for the third time in its last nine games. The Dragons defeated the Redmen 42-6 in the 2020 regular season and 41-7 in the playoffs.
“Rock Hill’s always going to be physical,” Leep said. “The week off last week actually hurts us a little bit compared to two weeks ago. As long as we are tough up front, we should be fine. You just have to play like any other game. You have to have the same mindset like with Ironton. You have to treat it like Ironton.”
Leep, whose first name was pinned on him because his parents are Pittsburgh Steelers fans and season-ticket holders, also plays basketball and baseball. His middle name is “Russell,” after his dad, not former Steelers’ All-Pro linebacker Andy Russell. Leep’s off-field passion is singing, although he said crooning in front of a crowd is more nerve-racking than football.
“I really enjoy singing,” Leep said. “Country music, pretty much anything. In fifth grade, my mom made me sing a Charlie Puth song for the talent show. I got a lot of positive feedback. Now, my voice has changed. I just really enjoy singing. I love music. I led singing at (Rome Church of Christ) the other night. I was pretty nervous.”
Leep credited fellow safety J.D. Brumfield, a national champion in powerlifting, and former Fairland safety Brennen West with helping him become a batter player.
My freshman year, Brennan West, the safety who played my position, felt the need to develop me,” Leep said. “He didn’t have to. He helped me be where I was supposed to be, told me what calls to make. I’d text him. We’d get together and work on things. J.D. Brumfield got me in the weight room, got me eating right. He’s amazing.”
Leep’s sister, Holli was Fairland’s valedictorian and head cheerleader. She cheers at Otterbein University. Leep, of course, praised his sister.
“She’s a genius,” he said. “I wish I was as smart as her.”
That comes from a kid with a 4.8338 grade point average and college aspirations of his own. Leep said he wants to be a physical therapist.
Leep praised the Dragons offense, defense, special teams, fans and more in assessing the team’s success.
“We’re so much better than last year,” Leep said.
That’s no song and dance.