John Lesser told himself as a freshman that he would give himself a season with the Liberty Christian football team, then evaluate whether to stay or transfer to Richland High School.
That was two years ago.
Lesser saw plenty of playing time at running back for the Patriots, who advanced all the way to the Class 1B state championship game that season.
In the title game against Neah Bay, with the contest tied and Liberty Christian at the 2-yard line with just a few seconds left in regulation, Lesser stood on the sideline.
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“Coach (Mike Olson) called me out there,” Lesser said. “I originally wasn’t in the huddle. I thought I would have to block on the play. Then they called 38 Pitch (to me). My stomach kind of dropped. I didn’t have time to think about it, and I kept telling myself, ‘I have to get in. I have to get in.’ ”
Lesser did as time expired, and the Patriots won the championship, 34-28.
That clinched it for the young running back.
“After we won the state title, I couldn’t leave here,” Lesser said.
That has been great news for the Patriots ever since, because Lesser is a major part of Liberty Christian’s offense.
“I’m sure glad he stayed,” said Olson, whose team takes on Republic at 4 p.m. Saturday in the 1B state semifinals at Edgar Brown Stadium in Pasco.
And why not? As a junior this season, Lesser has dominated for the Patriots in the 8-man game.
He has rushed for 1,532 yards and scored 26 touchdowns. He has passed for another 1,147 yards and 16 TD passes. Defensively, he has 64 tackles.
A big key was Olson moving Lesser from running back to quarterback this season.
“We decided to go into the shotgun formation, spread the formation out a bit,” Olson said. “That kind of fits John’s abilities and skills.”
But even with all of those gaudy numbers, it’s interesting to note that Lesser has been banged up for most of this season.
“The first game this season, I had a big game, and the next one I got hurt (knee),” he said. “I sat out a game, and it was tough to watch on the sideline. Slowly, I’ve come back, and it wasn’t until the Touchet game (Nov. 6) that I felt 100 percent again.”
As much as he likes playing offense, though, Lesser is pretty proud of those 64 tackles.
“I enjoy playing both ways,” he said. “Kids ask me about scoring touchdowns all the time. But when you put a lick on somebody and have your teammates come over and pat you on the back, that’s great.”
Believe it or not, the key to winning in 8-man football — sometimes called a track meet in football cleats — is defense.
“I try to get the eight fastest kids out there on defense,” Olson said.
And for a team like Liberty Christian to play so well, it can’t just be Lesser out there. The Patriots (11-0) have a lot of talent. Cody Daniels has rushed for 1,065 yards. Mitch Godwin has 34 catches for 880 yards.
“It was the same two years ago when we won the title,” Olson said. “We had a number of outstanding guys.”
“It was a team effort for sure,” he said. “This year, it’s the same. Our line play, for sure, has been strong. And we’re deep on the line. Overall, our offensive line’s work ethic has been great.”
Lesser understands football. He has loved football since he started nine years ago as a Richland Cowboy in Grid Kids.
“Football is always something I just do and watch,” Lesser said. “If I didn’t have football, I’d have nothing. Every other sport is about getting ready for football.”
Those other sports include playing basketball for Liberty Christian and running track at Richland High.
“When I ran track for Richland, some of the kids were trying to get me to come over and play with them,” Lesser said.
He would have none of it.
“It’s nice to have small classes (at Liberty Christian),” Lesser said. “The teacher-student ratio is great. It’s a nice Christian atmosphere, but we’re not super strict here.”
Maybe not. But with Lesser leading the way, the Patriots are disciplined enough for a legitimate shot at another 1B state title.