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Fired-up Falcons: Coach stokes secondary, kickoffs
When people watch a South Whidbey High School football game, they notice Leo Langer.
He’s hard to miss.
In an average game the past seven seasons, he’s the coach yelling the most and the loudest — at everybody, from his players to the referees. Langer, the Falcons’ defensive backs/wide receivers/kickoff coach, is the sideline motivator for South Whidbey, whipping up the off-the-field guys to stay in the game.
“I’m an advocate for my team,” said Langer, 42. “I fight for my team.”
In the past, his self-described enthusiasm for his team cost them yards in penalties and some stern looks from co-head coaches Andy Davis and Mark Hodson. Last season, however, Langer did not get a single penalty called on him for his sideline behavior, of which he is quite proud.
“Those guys have to have some decorum,” said Langer of Davis and Hodson. “I’m not disrespectful.”
For all his boisterous nature, it’s his West Virginia mountain man appearance that sticks with people around the Cascade Conference schools and beyond. Langer is lean, but it’s hard to tell when he wears his standard outfit — a blue South Whidbey Falcon football hoodie, blue Falcon football shorts and his iconic Falcon football bucket hat.
“That’s his signature hat,” Hodson said, pointing to Langer as he walked to the practice field — a well-faded, once-black bucket hat with the blue Falcon sign, pulled firmly on top of his head.
Then there’s his beard which is a bit short these days after a recent shave, though it grew back quickly enough to hang a few solid inches from his chin.
“There was a razor that went to this,” said Langer, touching his right cheek covered in facial hair. “You can’t tell now.”
Though Langer looks like he’s straight from the Appalachian Mountains or a long-lost member of the “Duck Dynasty” family, Langer is a West Coast native. He grew up in California and played football at Bakersfield High School, one of the most storied football programs in California. He won the California Interscholastic Federation state title his senior year, when he played linebacker for the Bakersfield Drillers.
Langer is one of three coaches on the Falcon football staff who played in college. He attended Bakersfield Junior College and played football for two seasons before transferring to the University of California, Davis, though injuries kept him from playing there. During his junior college career, Langer moved from the defensive front to the secondary and became a safety. That experience helped him land the job as an assistant coach for South Whidbey’s defensive backs several years ago.
“He’s been one of our core coaches of longevity,” said Hodson of Langer. “He’s positive with the kids and he brings enthusiasm to the team … On Friday nights, he’s jumping all over the place.”
When Langer was hired almost eight years ago, he was practically unknown to the coaches. Langer worked at the high school as its daytime maintenance worker and got to know Davis a bit, who decided to give him a shot at coaching the secondary during spring workouts. On the first day, the coaches marveled at how he yelled when the first pass was thrown, recalling Langer hollering “Pass! Pass!” and “Ball!” as the football came near the receiver and cornerback.
Hodson cited a saying in football that players and teams take on the personalities of its coaches. That rang true for South Whidbey’s secondary and kickoff units. South Whidbey has consistently produced all-Cascade Conference safeties and cornerbacks since Langer came on board, including former players Luke Hodson and Austin Bennett and senior Nick French.
Langer coaches his players to take risks, hit hard and to avoid timidity. The secondary has the chance to give up a big play any time the football is thrown — if a cornerback slips, if a safety is late, a touchdown can result. To prepare his “DBs” (defensive backs), he encouraged them to walk backwards whenever they could and to practice proper backpedaling technique — he says pumping the arms is crucial — in the offseason.
Few things are riskier than the onside kick, South Whidbey’s specialty. As the kickoff coach, Langer is in charge of directing the kickoffs after a South Whidbey score or at the start of the half, and Langer is a bit of a madman when he has full control of that unit.
“That’s an intense thing,” said Langer of kickoffs. “I love the kickoff. It’s not for the timid … It’s trying to create a car wreck but be under control.”
Hodson said South Whidbey’s onside kick caught on last season with its upcoming opening day opponent, Chelan.
Langer has matured in his days as a Falcon coach. Eight years ago, he said, he would have done everything he could to keep a player on the field if the player’s grades were low. He understands the Falcon motto of “ohana,” a Hawaiian word for family. Now, he holds his players accountable to the team, and that means keeping their grades up to remain eligible.
“A lot of [coaching] is about growing young men,” he said.
And there’s also one young woman he’s growing, his 9-year-old daughter, Laura. Spending days at Waterman’s Field with the Falcon football team is all she knows, he said. He even recalled when she was younger and lost a tooth on the field, which made her cry because she couldn’t put it under her pillow for the “Tooth Fairy.” Langer asked Davis to tape an envelope with some cash and Laura’s name on it to the field goal post the next morning before practice. When she saw it, Langer said her eyes lit up.
“That’s my life right there,” he said.