As a senior in high school, Mike Leitzel had no idea he would be a first-team all-conference player in college – especially as a defender.
The junior back has been an offensive player since he began playing soccer in local recreational leagues at the age of 5. Without any club ball experience or offers from other schools, he said he felt as if he could not play at the college level.
“It just kind of happened,” Leitzel said of his college career.
A four-day camp held by Eastern coaches, alumni and current players near Leitzel’s hometown, Manheim, Pa., changed everything. During one of the drills, Leitzel volunteered to play in the back since there were not enough defensive players. Head Coach Mark Wagner has viewed Leitzel as a defender ever since.
“I wish I would have known from day one I was a defender,” Leitzel said. “I could be so much better now.”
Leitzel said the transition from attacker to back has not been too bad, since his natural abilities are more suited for defense. But the mindset and type of play, as well as the perspective on the field, are very different.
“When you play offense, you’re free to do a lot more,” he said. “On defense, it’s more of a mental game.”
Last year, Leitzel earned first-team all-PAC honors as well as a third-team all-Mid-Atlantic region recognition from D3kicks.com. Leitzel was also Eastern’s representative on the conference sportsmanship team and was named to the academic all-PAC team.
Even though he has done well individually, Leitzel said he loves the team aspect of soccer and the relationships he has formed.
“Working with a team, it’s not all about you,” Leitzel said. “You can look around and see these guys are working for the same thing. If you make a mistake, someone else will cover you.”
However, when the team chemistry is not there, Leitzel said it can be frustrating.
“You want to be the one to change the game,” Leitzel said. “When that doesn’t happen, it’s hard.”
Leitzel also has the added honor, and pressure, of being one of the team’s captains this year. Leitzel said he enjoys being a captain, but he does feel more responsibility as a team leader.
“There’s an extra little bit of weight on my shoulders,” he said. “I want to do as good as I can, but sometimes I look back and maybe I didn’t do my best.”
In addition to being an upperclassman on the field, Leitzel, a biokinetics major, said balancing his higher-level classes with soccer, in addition to his social and spiritual life, has been harder this year.
“I try to keep things to their specific area,” Leitzel said. “I’m trying to leave schoolwork and school stresses away from soccer.”
Outside of the soccer field, Leitzel uses his athleticism in other sports, such as golf and tennis.
“I’m a sports fanatic,” he said. “I play anything and everything I can.”
Leitzel is also a self-proclaimed artist and often creates pencil drawings for his friends. He entered some pieces in local art shows during high school and ended up earning an honorable mention with his artwork put on display in a museum.
Looking ahead, Leitzel said next year will probably be the end of his soccer career, but he would love to coach someday at the high school level. The realization that his time on an organized team is ending soon has given Leitzel some extra motivation for his final seasons.
“To know I’ve been playing this game for 15 years now, and that it will slow down so much after, it makes me want to give all I can now,” he said.