As football season kicks into high gear this month, we catch up with former ZCHS graduate,former Indiana Mr. Football and current member of Stanford University’s football team Blake Leuders. Beginning his red-shirt junior season in Palo Alto for the Stanford Cardinal, Blake hopes to have a major role this year on a team ranked 4th in the country in both AP and USA Today pre-season polls and is the defending PAC-12 champions.
The personal collegiate football resumé for Blake Lueders already is overflowing with glowing
experiences. There was the quarterback sack he recorded as a freshman against Colorado. There was the visit to South Bend to play Notre Dame; the trips to the Orange, Fiesta and Rose Bowls; and the heart-stopping, triple overtime, nationally televised win over conference rival Southern California in the legendary Coliseum in Los Angeles.
And not to be forgotten in this trail of highlights were the moments of being recruited by then Stanford coach and former Indianapolis Colt quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who attended a brunch in the Lueders’ home to try and persuade Lueders to come to Palo Alto, California.
Indeed, all of these have been splendid memories for the football warrior from Zionsville. But one of the brightest in the football career for the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Lueders came before he arrived at Stanford and the Pacific-12 Conference. This highlight moment happened as a sophomore fullback at Zionsville High School in a game against Lafayette Harrison.
The mental replay still sends chills through Lueders. “There was this one run during my sophomore year,” recalled the 2009 Zionsville graduate. “We were playing Harrison and it was a running play up the middle. I probably should have been stopped at the line of scrimmage, but I bounced off three or four different guys, did a spin move and got 11 yards.”
Perhaps that one play signals most the grit, passion and competitiveness that Lueders brings to the big stage of college football at Stanford. During his entire career in youth, high school or college football, Lueders has never shown a second gear because his play is always high octane. “That’s just the way I play,” admitted Lueders.
This movie started on the youth football fields in Boone County when attorneys Dan and Mary enrolled their son into the Zionsville Youth Football League. A few years later, the second act unfolded at Zionsville High School when Blake played for longtime Eagles Coach Larry McWhorter, who previously coached Dan at Pike High School. The resume scripted by Lueders for the Eagles is of near epic proportion.
After being named the starting fullback as a freshman, Lueders became a four-year letterman. He was a four-star performer – the highest classification — by the top national recruiting services (ESPN, Rivals and Scout); was projected as the 10th best defensive end prospect in the country; and was ranked No. 79 among all high school recruits in the country. After selection as Indiana’s Mr. Football in 2009, Lueders was chosen to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio.
The robust Hoosier was a national name in collegiate football circles. Yes, football. “Zionsville has a darned good football program,” said Lueders, who also performed at a high level for the Eagles on the basketball court. “Indiana players can compete against anybody.”
College recruiters agreed. Among those pursuing Lueders were Boston College, Iowa, Northwestern, North Carolina, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest and the home state trio of Indiana, Purdue and Notre Dame. After verbally committing to Notre Dame, Lueders reversed directions and settled on Stanford and Harbaugh. “Stanford sells itself,” recalled Lueders.
Perhaps the only hardship for the Lueders family has been the distance from Zionsville to the San Francisco area. Parents and sister, Grace, (a talented freshman graphic design student at Miami of Ohio who last year produced a recruiting highlight video on Zionsville football player John Naumcheff) have missed some football Saturdays on the west coast. “We go to as many games as we can,” said Dan, a patent attorney for Indianapolis law firm Woodard, Emhardt, Moriarity, McNett and Henry, who represents the another football powerhouse, the University of Florida, in their partnership with Gatorade. “[The games are] kind of like the opening of the Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities with the phrase ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’ Big time college football is so exciting. But also it’s your kid out there in a meat grinder of 310 pound maniacs. It is a blast but it also is very stressful for Mary and me as parents.”
The 2013 campaign figures to be a big one for Lueders, who is competing for a starting outside linebacker slot. After being a key contributor to the Cardinal special teams as a freshman and sophomore, Lueders missed the entire 2012 season with a shoulder injury that required season-ending surgery. However, the red-shirt season may have been a blessing. “It was tough sitting out a whole season,” said Lueders, whose shoulder problems were leftovers from wear and tear during his high school and college careers of ramming shoulders into charging offensive giants. “But the time out also enabled me to really appreciate the game of football. Physically, I am in the best shape that I have been in.”
Lueders expects season-long internal competition for playing time for the
Stanford defensive team. The fourth-ranked Cardinal defense has a roster brimming with top high school recruits and all-American caliber players. Stanford greets three all-Americans returning on a defensive unit that led the Pac-12 in total defense, rushing defensive, quarterback sacks and scoring defense. Two of those touted returnees are linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy. “I am going to do whatever I can to do to compete for a starting spot,” said Lueders on a recent visit to the Hoosier homeland. “You have to give it your all because we have tremendous depth. We have so many good players.”
During the summer Lueders participated in aggressive workouts. Time in the weight room has turned out impressive readings: he can squat 450 pounds; power lift 370 pounds; and power clean 320 pounds.
Lueders has also turned in impressive numbers in the other part of being a student-athlete at Stanford, which has produced football legends John Elway, Jim Plunkett and Andrew Luck. He boasts a grade point average of 3.4 in engineering school and will graduate in June, 2014. Courses have included Financial Analysis, Technology Entrepreneurship, Differential Equations, Stochastic Modeling, Probabilistic Analysis and Physics. And, off-seasons have not always been in the weight room and Cardinal workout facility. Lueders has completed internships with a Silicon Valley private equity firm and with another Silicon Valley asset investment and management company.
But next up on the calendar is the football season and Stanford’s pursuit of playing for a national championship in Pasadena in January, 2014. The season opens September 7 against San Jose State. The schedule includes a home game with Notre Dame and conference confrontations with Southern Cal, UCLA, Oregon and neighborhood rival California.
The Zionsville linebacker is armed and ready for battle. “Our goal is win the Pac-12 and defend our conference title,” Lueders said. “And then maybe we can go to Pasadena and play in the national championship.”
Certainly, Lueders has come a long way from those Friday night lights in Indiana.
First and 10 questions
Here’s a First and 10 Question and Answer session with former Zionsville high school football standout Blake Lueders, now a key component for fourth-ranked Stanford.
What is your fondest memory playing youth football in Zionsville?
The friendships that I made playing pee-wee football are still a part of me. Those guys are still my friends today. We had a great time playing youth football.
What was the toughest moment of your playing days at Zionsville High School?
We were never able to beat Hamilton Southeastern. It seems like we always got close but they would pull it out in the end.
What has been the best highlight at Stanford?
I hope that my best highlight is still to come but it was great to play against Southern Cal two years ago. It was (ESPN) College Game Day, Saturday Night, nationally televised and we won in triple overtime. It was cool.
Do you have one favorite story about playing with Andrew Luck? (Luck and Lueders were teammates in 2010 and 2011.)
He is an all-around impressive person. He works extremely hard and is an amazing leader.
Where would you like to be in five years?
That’s a tough question. I would like to be in the NFL or working on my MBA.
Do you collect autographs?
I have an autographed jersey of Dick Butkus (NFL Hall of Famer) in my room. I wish I could have seen him play.
What impressed you when then Coach Jim Harbaugh came to your home in Zionsville and recruited you for Stanford? (Lueders had previously verbally committed to Notre Dame.)
Honestly, he didn’t have to say anything. Stanford sells itself.
What are your thoughts about the unconventional and sometimes controversial Stanford marching band? (The band is named as the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band and has been billed as the World’s Largest Rock and Roll Band.)
The band is one-of-a-kind. They are unique. But I am very proud that they are our band.
Was your father (Dan) a football player?
He played at Pike. He was a rugby player at Northwestern.
Are you still a Colts fan?