Stefan Leitzel has heard all sorts of things from opponents and their fans this season as he’s made plays all over the field for the Midd-West boys soccer team.
When Midd-West lines up today for a PIAA Class 2A semifinal and the junior hits the field at Cedar Crest High School, he may hear plenty more from the New Hope-Solebury fans.
One of the first things that Leitzel hears about is there’s no way he’s merely a high school junior and has to be older. Well, the 6-foot-4 Leitzel celebrated his 17th birthday Monday night during a pre-tournament dinner with his Mustangs teammates.
The next night at Bethlehem Liberty High School, Midd-West (19-3) defeated Notre Dame-Green Pond 6-0 in its state opener.
“That was a pretty good birthday present, I thought,” he said
Before Leitzel and his teammates departed, he heard another one that simply made him laugh.
“One of their parents asked if I was foreign,” said Leitzel, a three-year starter at defender, including the last two at center back. “And I live outside of Richfield.”
Other remarks center on his hair — he ties his lengthy mane into a ponytail when he plays — or when they see him flash his terrific speed.
Then, they see him play.
Well, success on local soccer fields, along with the lofty GPA (4.00) he carries, is why Leitzel is the latest youngster to land The Daily Item’s Scholar Athlete of the Week award sponsored by SUN Orthopaedics of Evangelical, as well as PPL Electric Utilities.
The award honors local student-athletes who thrive in the classroom, in the community and on Susquehanna Valley playing fields.
“He is the key that keeps our defense solid,” Midd-West coach Mark Ferster said. “He’s becoming more knowledgeable with every game, with every opportunity he gets to play. He’s one of our most vocal, if not our most vocal, players.
“It’s great to have him back there.”
Leitzel has scored nine goals this season and set up a 10th for Ferster’s Mustangs. He’s an aerial target on certain set pieces.
In addition, Leitzel’s speed enables him to track down opposing players who get through the Midd-West backfield. Although his technical skills are solid, he’s constantly working at getting more and more comfortable on the ball.
“(Messiah coach Brad) McCarty, the one thing that he told me was he wanted me to just settle the ball down to my feet and just look up and distribute the ball out of the back versus just trying to kick it long,” said Leitzel, referring to one of the schools he’d like to play for at the next level. Division I Lipscomb and Hope (Mich.) are some of the others.
“Specifically this year, that’s one thing that I’ve been trying to hit on more,” Leitzel continued. “It’s just more fluid and I’m more calm when I have the ball at my feet.”
Ferster and his assistants also have been asking Leitzel to pick out a particular landing spot for the free kicks he launches from anywhere inside the midfield stripe — unless he’s in position to shoot from 30 or more yards out.
Leitzel also draws attention for his efforts inside Midd-West’s challenging classrooms, as his academic schedule includes an Advanced Placement course in chemistry, Honors English, advanced physics and government & economy.
He’s also taking calculus at Susquehanna University, Leitzel’s future academic plans include AP courses in biology as well as anatomy & physiology. Since he’s interested in the biomedical engineering field that makes perfect sense.
“If I’m going to build prosthetics, I need to know what body parts I’m trying to mimic,” said Leitzel, who also is exploring a possible major in mechanical engineering.
Leitzel is a member of the National Honor Society, and he also is part of his school’s Ski Club and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Team, a group that devised something neat.
Entered in a competition at Bloomsburg, Midd-West’s group originally was working on a project involving coding bracelets and other accessories. If the wearer was unresponsive following an accident, first responders could scan the code and find medical records.
Since someone else came up with that plan some two weeks before the project needed to be presented, Leitzel and company chose a slightly different path. Instead, they came up with a fingerprint reader that would essentially operate the same as the coded bracelet.
If an injured party isn’t in the system, however, there are other steps that can be taken.
Quite simply, Leitzel’s efforts within the STEM team’s projects and activities as well as his ongoing interest in designing and building prosthetics just fits him.
“One of the biggest things I’ve looked into is I’ve always enjoyed and gotten lots of satisfaction by being able to help people,” Leitzel said.
“Teaching them how to do something or just helping them out.”
Well, those qualities come into play during the summer when Leitzel helps operate a youth soccer camp with his brothers, father, Jeff, and Ferster at his church — Richfield Life Ministries. He’s also active in the youth group.
“He’s just that solid kid,” Ferster said of his standout central defender. “I can’t say enough about him, just overall and the way he goes about the game.”