Leander High School was the only cat in town for 62 years.
The Lions were the pride of the Leander ISD, which had a ginormous boundary that stretched from Liberty Hill to Round Rock and all the way down to the Four Points area of Lake Travis. Still, Leander was the only high school in the sparsely-populated rural suburb.
The football team toiled in obscurity for 62 years, though, compiling a 251-345 record and no playoff wins in that time. In that span, they made the playoffs just seven times, losing in the first round each time. They lost as a 5A school in 1996, a 1A school in 1969 and a Class B team five times (1942, 1948, 1955, 1959, 1967).
These numbers are from 1938-1999. Why 1999? The tech boom had Austin bursting at the seams. The growth first went north through Pflugerville and Round Rock, and then northwest into the LISD. Cedar Park High School began varsity football in 2000. Vista Ridge started in 2006. (Note: The city of Cedar Park is in the LISD). The school board prepared for growth and planned another high school, and then two more after that. Leander was to go from a one high school district to a six-school district, all at the 5A or 6A level.Rouse and Vandegrift opened in 2008 — they both began varsity football in 2010. Now, Tom Glenn High School is set for varsity ball. (Second note: Tom Glenn was the superintendent of 25 years who prepared for such growth).
Despite all the action with Cedar Park and looming add-ons, Leander High hired Steve Gideon to turn around the program. He awoke the Lions, and they roared into the playoffs on a regular basis the next decade and put studs into college. Steve Gideon took the Lions to the playoffs in 7-of-9 seasons before retiring, and assistant coach Clint Harper took the reigns and led Leander to three more playoff trips in as many years before taking the head coach job at Marshall.
The Lions have gone 6-24 over the last three seasons, including last year’s 2-8 campaign.
It must have Leander faithful thinking, “What in the world of Steve Gideon is going on here?”
What’s happened in Leander isn’t unusual for districts that experience burgeoning growth — think Mansfield, Frisco, McKinney, etc. The growing pains typically hit one or two schools harder than the rest, and Leander has taken the brunt in this case.
To put the rest of the school district into perspective, in the last five years, Cedar Park has won two state championships while Rouse, Vista Ridge and Vandegrift have all made it to the state semifinals once.To make it even more difficult, Leander plays in District 25-6A with perennial powers Lake Travis and Austin Westlake along with new lurking stalwarts Vandegrift and Vista Ridge. Leander’s lone district win last season came over the Vista Ridge Rangers, which made the playoffs with the fourth-place spot.
Maybe the recent years are just a fluke, because the city still has athletes. And when Leander starts playing great football again, it will be better for the entire district. They were once the big kid on the block. Now they’re fighting for elbow room at the big boy table.
DT Zeke Garcia, OL John Armstrong, DE Luke Owen
Garcia was the only Lion named 25-6A first-team all-district.
WR Dalton Flowers, LB Alex Williams, QB/RB Rashad Carter
Flowers led all Lions receivers with 52 catches for 883 yards and three of the team’s seven touchdown receptions.
Carter saw time at quarterback last year and was third on the team in rushing as a sophomore. Williams was a second-team all-district selection.
It’s been feast or famine for the Lions over the last couple of decades. They’ve either been really good or, well, not as good. They’re in a brutal district, but making the playoffs isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
The season starts with Killeen Ellison at home, followed by three straight contests against former district foes Pflugerville, Westwood and Stony Point.District 25-6A starts with a trip to Vista Ridge, which will be looking for revenge. Should Leander win that game again this year, they’ll get the Vandegrift Vipers at home, followed by a trip to Buda Hays.
Leander needs to get on a roll early in district because they finish with back-to-back games against 2016 state champion Lake Travis and at Austin Westlake, and the final home game will be against Lehman. It’s a jungle of a district. Will the Lions sleep or will they roar? They start the season undefeated just like the others. How they navigate it will determine if they end a three-year playoff drought.
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