Coach's Corner: Extraordinary sports journey isn't over for Titan Justin Leszynski
This story may read like a little bit of a roller-coaster ride: Buckle your seat belts, please, for the twists, bumps, jumps and surprise turns, because there are certainly many more than one might normally expect for a high school student.
But Glenbrook South's Justin Leszynski is definitely not your ordinary high school student. Not even close.
He has academics, sports, social skills and attitude maturity all at a remarkably high level.
Besides being a ridiculously talented athlete (we will get to that in a few paragraphs), his academic cred is off-the-charts, as evidenced by the fact that he has been accepted to both M.I.T. and Harvard University. And he seems to handle school, friends, sports, everything else with total class. Mature, composed, sportsmanlike and a team player all the way.
Leszynski started out as a kid playing all sports including flag football, Glenview Youth Baseball, AYSO soccer and park district basketball, the usual fare for young Glenview kids. But it was soccer that soon captured his sports passion.
"My parents were big soccer fans, and I always watched the Euro soccer games on t.v. so I started to get really into it," says Justin, "and then I found as I got older, I was pretty good at it, so I played club and travel soccer."
He did indeed and his talent showed while playing for the Glenview Soccer Club, and then stepping up and playing for one of the premier programs FC1.
When finally reaching high school age, Leszynski had nearly immediate success. As a sophomore he was brought up to the Titan varsity team, and his penchant for scoring goals and setting up teammates was clear. He rapidly moved up the GBS soccer record board, and in just two years was in the Top 25 for all time total points, and 17th in career goals scored -- again, before he was even a senior.
No doubt, things were going quite well on the pitch for Justin. Playing soccer in college was definitely an option.
But then basketball started to creep into the picture. It had always been his second sport, and he was pretty good at it. He played for the school team at Attea Junior High and for the Junior Titan travel team, and then made both the freshman and sophomore basketball teams at South.
Not bad for a soccer player.
Then came junior year, and things really changed. Playing for one of the best teams in GBS history, Leszynski surprisingly found himself in the starting lineup, the perfect complement to talented senior Danny Pauletto, superstar scorer Dom Martinelli and super soph Cooper Noard. He did a little bit of everything -- rebound, defend, score and move the ball -- and, no question, was an integral part of this record-breaking team's success.
"I thought I might be able to contribute as a junior," Justin explains, " but I have to admit I was a bit surprised that I got so much playing time right away and actually got to start."
The winning, the excitement of playing in front of big crowds and his own personal success all added to a growing love for the game of basketball.
"Basketball kind of became my first love after that great season, and I started to maybe see myself playing in college. I worked really hard on my own and in the off-season to better my game,"
He joined one of the top travel basketball teams around, Fundamental University, and suddenly was competing in the spring and summer against some of the top players in the area and even college players. A huge step up for "a soccer guy."
College coaches started to take notice, and near the end of a recently completed successful senior season, the ex-soccer star announced he had accepted an offer to play basketball and go to school at M.I.T.
A tremendous turnaround story. A story that could have been very happy to end right there.
But there was one more chapter still to be written.
Enter door number three, and what do we see? Football!
"I had always been thinking about football, and Coach Schoenwetter and some of my friends would kid me every year about if I was going out, so I thought, what the heck I would give it a shot."
Keep in mind, this is a young man who had never played a minute of organized football at any level. Never even put on the pads.
"Yeah," Justin recalls with a laugh, "The first few practices they had to help me figure out how to put all the equipment on, but I got the hang of it."
So here he is, a first-year player, a senior, competing against teammates in practice who have played the game for years, and amazingly in a short amount of time Leszynski proves his value as a wide receiver, using his height (now 6'5), basketball jumping ability and good hands ... and he is a starter from day one.
Not only that, but he also becomes the go-to receiver for quarterback Michael Bauer, and in the recently completed shortened five-game season, his success level was so high that he has a chance to make CSL All-Conference. Remember, this was after never having played the game before!
All of a sudden, this soccer player, turned basketball star, turned football player, discovers the joys of the gridiron.
"I really enjoyed the brief season, and I started to think that maybe my physical skills were best suited for football down the road."
In conjunction with that came a letter in the mail. An acceptance letter from Harvard University.
"I was shocked, never thought I had a chance to get in that school, so it did make me think twice."
He contacted the Harvard football coaches, sent them a tape and, sure enough, they call back and offer him a spot to walk on to the football team next year.
His Titans receiver's coach Travis Myers thinks there is more potential to be had.
"Justin picked up things so quickly," says Myers, "any college coach would look at his physical attributes and athletic skills and, knowing that he just started to play the game, realize that his upside would be tremendous."
As of this writing, no decision has been made. Justin is still weighing the M.I.T. option and this past weekend went with his parents to visit the two schools in consideration, which interestingly enough are both within a mile of each other.
Either way, finally, with football completed and graduation upcoming, Justin will take a brief break from sports and sit back and relax.
…..unless? Maybe the water polo coach contacts him. Who knows? With his size, throwing arm, and smarts -- despite a lack of any kind of real swimming ability -- he might find success in the pool as well. He'd be a great goalie.
College water polo coaches: Stay tuned.
• Jon Cohn of Glenview is a coach, retired PE teacher, sports official and prep sports fan. To contact him with comments or story ideas, email email@example.com.