Leonard, 26, was named Aquinas’ new head football coach on Friday, meaning he’ll coach a program his grandfather Denny led for 21 seasons. Leonard’s grandfather coached Boys Catholic and was then the first coach of Aquinas following the merger of Boys Catholic and Mount St. Joseph Academy.
“He watched me play JV football here,” the new head coach said about his grandfather, who coached from 1946-1966. “I always heard stories about how it was back in the day. I got all the pictures of him in my classroom. There’s always old alumni talking about how good of a coach he was and a man he was. If I’m ever half as good as he was either way, I would be extremely happy.”
Leonard, who has been an assistant coach with the program, takes over for Matt LeZotte. LeZotte is going to Wayne County to be an assistant there. On Friday, the two voiced the benefits of a familiar face leading the Irish, as both the current coaching staff and the players won’t see many differences, from the structure to the team style.
Leonard, himself a former Irish player, recently coached the girls soccer team to the Class A private state semifinals while he was taking control of spring practice. He gave thanks to both teams’ staffs during the hectic time.
The football Irish went 17-7 the past two seasons, with a quarterfinal appearance back in 2011.
LeZotte sees no reason for the winning to stop with Leonard in charge.
“I don’t think there’s a more deserving guy,” LeZotte said. “James has been right by my side the entire time I’ve been here — we’ve done it together. There hasn’t been anything we’ve done here that he and I haven’t done together.”