By Nate Thompson
EGELSTON TOWNSHIP – Leroy Quinn took an unconventional path to Oakridge High School.
Quinn, a junior, is arguably one of the best power backs in the state. With an intimidating-to-tackle frame of 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds, he’s currently the leading rusher in the Muskegon area with 821 yards on 76 carries, and 15 touchdowns.
He’s also led the Eagles to a 4-0 start, and they hope to keep rolling on Friday when they travel to Ravenna for a West Michigan Conference showdown.
“There’s been a big focus on him from opposing defenses, with the number of yards he’s been able to gain,” said Oakridge head coach Cary Harger. “It’s definitely helped us utilize some different kids, because Leroy draws so much attention.”
There’s always been a little extra attention surrounding Quinn, since Harger began watching him run at the middle school level.
“You always heard about the big kid running the ball in middle school,” Harger said. “He was able to develop above the competition. With his physical gifts, you knew he was going to be something special.”
Quinn became the first freshman to start the season on varsity since Harger has been around the program, as either a fan, player or coach – and that covers a lot of years.
Harger said he hasn’t been around an offensive skill player who combines such tremendous power and agility on the field with an easy-going, fun-loving demeanor off the gridiron.
Harger saw a demonstration of Quinn’s remarkable strength during the summer.
“He was just wearing some slide-on shoes and he wasn’t happy with them, so he kicks them off and proceeds to squat about 450 pounds in just his stocking feet,” Harger recalled. “It was unbelievable.”
Quinn has obviously been a tremendous addition to the Oakridge program, but his arrival to the area was unique. Quinn said he was born in Alabama to a teenage single mother, Michelle Gordon.
Gordon later moved to Muskegon Heights and raised her son to the best of her ability, but was struggling to make ends meet, so she decided to put him up for adoption when he was six.
“She was super young when she had me, like 17 or 18, and she didn’t have the money to take care of me,” Quinn said. “She definitely tried her best. But I think she was thinking about my future when she made the decision. She didn’t want me going down the wrong path.”
Quinn said he occasionally keeps in touch with his mom, but rarely sees her since she has moved to Jacksonville, Fla.
Quinn said he was extremely blessed to be adopted by his foster parents, Mike and Denise Demond, who have encouraged him to excel both academically and athletically. And it was Mike who pushed him to pursue football when he was eight. It was a natural fit.
Quinn said he was stunned when Harger asked him if he wanted to remain on varsity as a freshman, after he played with the older guys through the summer at 7-on-7 and team camps.
“I heard some of the other guys talking about it, but I didn’t really believe it,” Quinn said. “But then coach pulled me aside and asked me if I wanted to stay up. He said if you need to go back down (to junior varsity), we can do that, but if things work out, we’d like to keep you here.
“And I think it’s all worked out pretty good.”
Both Quinn and Harger said there were some growing pains adjusting to the speed and physicality of the varsity level, but throwing Quinn right into the fire has only escalated his development.
“I definitely had doubts,” Quinn admitted. “That first year, I didn’t think I was strong or fast enough.”
Even as a sophomore a year ago, Quinn said he often played timid. He said he wasn’t going 100 percent on linebacker reads or blitzes, and was doing too much thinking, instead of reacting, at running back.
“This year, we’re way more experienced and we’re playing more freely,” Quinn said. “I know I need to go 100 percent and not worry about making mistakes, just focusing on executing the next play.”
Quinn said he takes only one approach when running the ball.
“Running with anger,” he said with a laugh. “That’s what the coaches always tell me to do.”
Combined with a physical offensive line and experienced playmakers including quarterback Koleman Wall, fullback Blake Masterman, slot back Jalen Hughes and key receivers Jaxson Fri and Jake Danicek, the Eagles’ offense is much more dynamic and difficult to stop this fall. They’ve put up an average of nearly 57 points per game through their perfect start.
It has the Eagles thinking they could contend for the program’s fourth state championship, and its first since 2008.
That would be another tremendous milestone for Oakridge’s adopted star.
“The thing that stands out is the community,” Quinn said about Oakridge. “There’s so many that come out (for games), and it really made me nervous when I was a freshmen. Just all those fans. But they’re so supportive of us, and we want to win for them.”