The Naperville North football team enters 2023 with new and familiar faces lined up along the line of scrimmage, hoping for another strong campaign after winning thirteen games over the past two seasons. While a new starting quarterback Jacob Bell, leading the offense, and All-State Luke Williams, anchoring the offense and defense who get most of the attention on the gridiron, the Huskies special teams are getting a boost from an unlikely source this fall. This Feature Story is sponsored by Edward-Elmhurst Health.
Leo Taylor steps in with big shoes to fill
After the graduation of All-American kicking assassin David Olano, who took his talents to the University of Illinois, the Huskies are giving a new kicker an opportunity after overcoming challenges his entire life. Sophomore Leo Taylor was born with Congenital Limb Difference, a condition that stopped the growth of his right arm. However, that did not stop him from loving sports at an early age, as he took his first shot at athletics starting at the age of four.
“I started playing a lot of sports when I was in kindergarten or preschool. I never really thought about it much. So as I’ve grown as an athlete, I never think of it as a problem,” said Naperville North sophomore Leo Taylor.
He mostly stuck with soccer as his primary sport as a kid, but also played other sports like baseball and basketball. However, before entering the doors at Naperville North High School, he decided to give football a shot, using his athleticism and leg strength to help in the kicking game. Despite not appearing as a traditional football player, Taylor showed he had what it takes and was quickly embraced by the coaches and athletes in the Huskie program.
“When I joined football for the first time, everybody was happy to have me. There was no toxicity, and they were extremely excited for me to be a kicker. It’s very emotional,” said Taylor.
It was actually the success of David Olano, a former soccer player himself, who helped inspire Leo to join the football team.
“I saw David and other kickers around the area who were starting to shine and get noticed, and I thought that and I love soccer too so I thought that football would be a great opportunity to grow both as an athlete and a person,” said Taylor.
Taylor fits in right away
Despite being just a sophomore, Taylor handles the kickoff duties on the varsity squad, while junior Tyler Duewel kicks field goals and extra points. It did not take long for Taylor to make an impact. In the Huskies’ season-opening victory over Homewood Flossmoor, Taylor put some firepower on an early kickoff that went for a touchback, exciting the crowd and especially his teammates on the sidelines. While overcoming adversity alongside a strong support system, the Sophomore feels right at home with the orange and blue.
“It was amazing. I wasn’t use to the environment because freshman year there was less of an audience. But getting to that first time and doing what I’ve been practicing for months and months truly felt amazing,” Taylor described.
This is only the beginning of a special high school experience for the sophomore as he brings excitement to the team and head coach Sean Drendel, who expects great things from Taylor over the next three seasons. In a huge week three victory on the road at Bolingbrook, Taylor perfectly executed an onside kick which the Huskies recovered, helping the team pull out a thrilling 51-49 win.
“He’s a great kid, he comes from a good family. He’s very excited to be on varsity as a sophomore, and he’s earned it. He’s done a great job of doing what we’ve asked him to do so far on kickoffs, and the more he gets comfortable, the more he’ll do for us,” said Naperville North Head Football Coach Sean Drendel.
Setting an example of what is possible
While Taylor continues his success on kickoffs, he hopes to round out his game by adding field goals or punting duties to his resume down the line. But most of all, he hopes those dealing with a similar situation can be inspired to overcome their own challenges and pursue what they love.
“Don’t let it stop you. Many people I’ve heard of who have this condition have let it take a toll on how they perform athletically and academically. They take it as a problem, but I think you need just not to let it stop you and always try to do your best no matter what cards you get,” said Taylor.
Taylor and his Huskie teammates will continue to play their own cards as they enter the DVC campaign after an intense non-conference schedule, with another run at the postseason and the conference title in their sights.
For more prep sports highlights, visit the Naperville Sports Weekly page!