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Leonard family makes history with state championship victories

Published: Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013 10:18 p.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013 10:22 p.m. CDT
Rochester coach Derek Leonard, center, gets hugged by quarterback Robbie Kelley, left, while celebrating the team's 16-8 win over Geneseo 16-8 in the IHSA Class 4A championship high school football game Friday, Nov. 29, 2013, in Dekalb, Ill. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

DeKALB – Winning high school state championships is nothing new to Ken and Derek Leonard.

Coming into 2013, the father-son duo had combined to win six of them – three each – at Sacred Heart-Griffin and Rochester respectively. But never had they won state titles in the same year.

After Derek Leonard won his fourth consecutive state championship with Rochester's 16-8 win over Geneseo in the Class 4A state final on Friday night, his father Ken Leonard answered the call on Saturday as Sacred Heart-Griffin upset Montini with a come-from-behind 38-28 win.

It's the first time in the 40-year Illinois state football finals history that a father and son have coached teams to state championships in the same season.

"It was very special. When it's your livelihood…when you can have a son and father , it's just special," Ken Leonard said following Saturday's win. "My grandkids. Football isn't our life, Jesus is our life, family and then football. I have to give a shoutout to my wife. She's the one that raised [Derek] and she doesn't know a lick about football, but she keeps us in line." 

Sacred Heart-Griffin played with Washington's game football after the Panthers left one in Springfield following Sacred Heart-Griffin's semifinal win last weekend. Washington was ravaged by a tornado in the week leading up to the state semifinals.

"We actually used Washington's ball," Ken Leonard said. "They left them and I called coach and [quarterback Gabe Greene] really liked them. They sent us five or six more."

Rochester and Sacred Heart-Griffin have played each other as members of the Central State Eight Conference in what has annually been termed as the "Leonard Bowl." Derek Leonard's Rochester team beat Sacred Heart-Griffin this year, 38-33, but later had to forfeit the game because of the participation of players who were later ruled ineligible.

Still many Rochester players planned to stay and watch Saturday morning's 5A title game.

"Most of us are going to stay. Some kids will go home, we gave them the option to stay," Derek Leonard said following Friday's 4A title game. "I think we're going to have more than half the team stay here and support Griffin. Just make a whole weekend of it, so we tried to give them that option."

In addition to it being a family affair, both Leonards said they wanted to once again prove that teams in the southern part of the state could compete with those in the northern half.

"We wanted to show everybody that, no offense to you Chicago folks, there is football played south of I-80," Ken Leonard said. "We're very proud of that and the Leonard family had a good weekend." 

Steve Nitz contributed to this report.

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