Westmoreland County high school football Q&A: Franklin Regional’s Nick Leopold
Franklin Regional had begun to slide as the regular season moved into its final few weeks.
The Panthers lost three of their final four games, all to playoff teams, so the prospect of them advancing in the WPIAL Class 5A postseason was a low pulse rate at best.
No. 9 seed Franklin Regional, though, went on the road last week and toppled No. 9 Bethel Park, 56-28, in its playoff opener to extend its 15th consecutive playoff appearance.
“We’re not surprised,” receiver/strong safety Nick Leopold said. “We expected to come out ready and fired up. We hadn’t been moving the ball well and weren’t playing great, but we were up for the challenge.”
Leopold has been one of the top two-way players for the Panthers (7-3), who get a rematch Friday night with Big East Conference foe Gateway (11-0), the No. 1 seed and top-ranked team in the state.
The senior, who has been making plays for the Panthers since he was a sophomore, is a key returner, pass-catcher and defensive back. He has 23 receptions for 333 yards and six touchdowns, as well as 45 tackles, and he averaged 94.9 all-purpose yards.
“He came back after two weeks with a concussion,” Panthers coach Greg Botta said. “He really helped to give us phenomenal field position in that win Friday with his kick and punt returns. He’s elusive and can get up field quickly. And he’s like another coach out there.”
Leopold has pedigree: His father, Andy, played at IUP, and he is following in the footsteps of his brother, Nate, who graduated last season and is playing defensive back at John Carroll.
Nick is the subject of this week’s Westmoreland high school football Q&A.
Did you guys see something in film you could exploit against Bethel Park?
We noticed their corners would bail or play tight up close. We thought we could go deep on them, and we did that with Mikey (Evans) over the top.
What kind of impact did your brother have on you as an athlete?
He taught me a lot about playing cornerback. We would go back and forth.
What is the key to staying with Gateway this time?
We can’t be intimidated by them. We have to come hungry and find ways to slow them down.
You have been in the student section cheering the boys soccer team on to its first WPIAL championship. What can you say about their run?
I am very proud of what they have done; they deserve it. We knew how good they could be. My best friend, Matt Kimmich, is one of the top players. It’s great to see them succeed.
What did you think of freshman Anthony DiFalco’s skillful goal in the WPIAL finals?
That was amazing. That’s stuff you don’t see seniors do.
Who are your favorite sports teams and athletes?
I like the Steelers, Florida Gators and LeBron (James). Nate loves the Golden State Warriors. They know how to play the game the right way, but he has turned me away from them.
Favorite TV Show?
“The Fast and the Furious” (series).
I’m a good climber. We locked the keys in our house on vacation (at Hilton Head, S.C.). I climbed up this pole like 15 feet up and went in a window.
What has Coach Botta taught you?
That hard work and dedication can get you anywhere in life -- stick to it. It’s an honor to play for him.
What makes this team a winner?
We’re a brotherhood. There are seven of us seniors. We were the first freshmen class to play up because we didn’t have a freshmen team. We’re all still tight and play for each other.
After reaching the WPIAL finals last year, how excited are you for basketball season to start?
I want to get back. Scorp (coach Steve Scorpion) wants us all back bad. There’s me, Rud (Adam Rudzinski) and Aidan (Wiley). I’m the only returning starter.