Mountie signal caller credits team, coaching staff with turnaround in 2013

Wallie Sears
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Brandon Leyh, shown above looking for a receiver during the 2013 Uteck Bowl, says his team will only improve in the years to come.

He cannot put his finger on the exact moment the Mount Allison Mounties reached their potential, but talented quarterback Brandon Leyh knows when his game came together and he found his confidence returning.

"We were playing down at St. F.X.," he said during a recent discussion, "and I completed a neat pass to Josh Blanchard and I knew then that my own game would improve and from that point on our fortunes improved."

But he credits the entire team with making a commitment, sticking to what was working and coming together as a unit as the ingredients that took the team to the Uteck Bowl.

Asked if playing in the Uteck Bowl was the highlight of his career, the big 6’3", 220-pound signal caller said it wasn't. The one that stands out in his memory was the way in which the team came back to knock off the Saint Mary's Huskies 20-17 in the Loney Bowl to bring the first conference title to Sackville since 1998.

"The great punt return by Blanchard that set us up on the Huskie 37 and then Blanchard getting behind coverage in the end zone to catch the winning touchdown on the very next play will remain in my memory forever."

Actually, Leyh says the Uteck Bowl performance, for him, was a disappointment as he had fully expected to win and advance to the Vanier Cup game the following week.  A sluggish start put the Mounties behind the eight ball early as they trailed 21-0 before storming back, finally falling 48-21 to the national champions.

Leyh, a native of New Westminister, B.C., played five years of football at St. Thomas More Collegiate, graduating in 2009. He then played one year of midget football, took a year off and then spent a season with the Langley Rams in junior ball. During that season he faced off against two other future Mounties, Jordan Botel and Nick Lauder, as they all headed east for the 2012 campaign.

As a result of his delay in entering CIS play, Leyh has just two more years of eligibility, as he is currently 22. He arrived here with six credits towards a commerce degree and expects to graduate in the spring of 2016.

Leyh first learned about Mount Allison from a teammate and former Mountie Dylan Fougere, who preached the advantages of attending a top quality university in a small community. And he says it was the best decision he ever made as he has come to love the community of Sackville and the outpouring of support shown for the team.

Recruited by several western universities, he chose Mount Allison without even visiting the place. He says coach Kelly Jeffrey was really persuasive and has shown plenty of patience and support as he has made the transition from junior to university ball.

Leyh was recruited when regular quarterback Jake Hotchkiss had announced he would not be returning. Then when Hotchkiss changed his mind Leyh was assured he would be given every opportunity to win the job. However, it was expected he would serve as the understudy to Hotchkiss for a year. Then the incumbent signal caller quit school and Leyh was thrown into the fire once and for all.

During his initial campaign Leyh completed 73 passes in 149 attempts, good for three TD's and six interceptions. 

"I have become a totally different quarterback in one year," he says, "primarily due to coach Jeffrey, who kept telling me to relax, take it easy and have fun and as a result I seem to have matured a good deal."

During the past campaign, excluding the three playoff games, Leyh completed 97 of 194 tosses and 1,199 yards but threw 10 interceptions along with five touchdowns. Only a couple of interceptions came during their three game winning streak to take second place in the conference as he turned his game around and played like a man possessed.

Jeffrey came to Mount Allison six years ago with a history of developing all-star type quarterbacks in the US after having played that position in university.  This trend appeared to be continuing with Hotchkiss until he left and now Leyh is showing the results of a steady and supportive hand. He says Leyh improves every time he takes the field.

“Brandon has all the qualities of a great quarterback – poise, courage, quick decision making and a big arm. His understanding of the game improves every week. We give our quarterbacks a lot of decisions to make on the field and Brandon continues to get us the right play to be successful whether it is the run or pass play."

Asked to take a look across the board at the Mounties, he said the special teams are far superior to any other in the conference with players like Bohan, Blanchard and Saunders being "outrageous" in their skill development.

He feels the team will only improve and fully expects they will surpass this year's record efforts. He realizes the loss of Botel will be sorely felt but is confident others will take up the role, noting that the Mounties have invariably been strong at tailback with such runners as John Hutchison, Richard Thompson, Grant Keany, Gord Francis, Eric Lapointe and Botel filling the role.

But he feels Botel's loss may mean he will be called upon to pass more often, which is right up his alley.  He says he has always had a strong arm but his accuracy has improved markedly in the past two seasons.

He says the Huskies secondary gave him plenty of trouble while one Acadia back seemed to be able to "read" him nearly every play. But Leyh says he loves these challenges and predicts better things in the future. And if genetics kick in that could be true as his father was the signal caller for the University of Washington and has had a major impact on his own development.

Leyh has set his standards high and believes the Mountie program will continue to soar as they have a fine base from which to work and should be an improved team when the opening whistle blows to start the 2014 campaign.

 

Organizations: University of Washington

Geographic location: Sackville, Mount Allison, Saint Mary New Westminister US

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