Connor Leavens Set to Lead Pipers Resurgence
The Pied Piper of Hamelin is a story that many children are told. According to the fable, the Pied Piper was able to lead rats away from the city by playing a tune on his pipe. When the people of the town refuse to pay him for his services, in retaliation, he plays a tune that leads the children away.
The story is an odd one to say the least, as this Piper used his special abilities for an evil purpose. However, there is a different Piper out there who is looking to use his special gifts and talents to bring about a resurgence to a different Hamline, in this case, the university. That young man is quarterback Connor Leavens, who in his second season as the Pipers starting quarterback is looking to learn from last year’s mistakes and build off last season’s successes to help turnaround a team in need of a hero.
Go North Young Man?
Connor Leavens graduated from Marana High School (Tucson, AZ) in 2017. For three years, he had been the Tigers’ starting quarterback, throwing for 4,587 yards and 49 touchdowns. The quarterback was honored as the All-Region Offensive MVP and team Offensive MVP his senior year, as he led the Tigers to their first playoff contest in more than three decades and their first playoff win in more than four.
At 6-1, 170, Connor found himself recruited by several Division-III schools, including Hamline, but he opted to go to Northern Arizona University instead. “I got offered a preferred walk on at Northern Arizona University, and I ended up taking that because it was closer to home. I wanted to give myself a shot at a Division-I university.”
After two years at NAU, Connor began to suspect that he was not going to be given the opportunity to be the Lumberjacks’ starting QB, so he decided to take a second look at a school that had been on his radar once before – Hamline University.
“Hamlin actually showed some real interest in me in my senior year of high school. I went up there for a visit and had a great time. I loved the coaches, the players, everything. Things didn’t really work out at Northern Arizona, So I hit up coach T (Head Coach Chip Taylor) and asked him if there’s still a spot around the team, I’d love to come play for him. I just needed an opportunity to compete, so we made it all happen.”
Having to Prove Himself
Connor Leavens entered his junior year of college 1,300 miles from home, at a new school, with new teammates and an entirely different climate. He would be playing his first game in a Pipers uniform in a place where the temperature was, on average, 25 degrees cooler when the season began and 35 degrees cooler by season’s end. He had a new playbook to learn, new teammates to get to know, all while competing for the starting quarterback job. It was a challenge for sure, but one that Connor did not shy away from.
“I think they had to learn me, like, where are we at with this dude. I had basically established a life for myself for two years and then I picked everything up last summer moved away. I was ready for this challenge though.”
It looked like early in fall camp that Connor was going to earn the starting job. He had the skills, but he knew he had to prove to his teammates that a guy who was brand new to the program had what it took to lead this team on the field.
“I didn’t want to step on anybody’s toes in terms of being a leader because I knew there were some guys who were already there and have established a reputation for themselves and a leadership role for themselves. So, I kind of just eased my way into it a little bit and once I got named the starter, that’s obviously a big responsibility, so, I had to take on a little bit more of a leadership role but still not stepping on anybody’s toes.”
To establish himself as a leader, Connor had to prove himself. That was simple to do for the charismatic quarterback.
“I think it’s just about relationships. think that if you have guys on the team that trust you and you spend time with them outside of the film room and stuff like that, you establish a really good relationship and you can trust one another. You can look to that person in times of adversity or when things aren’t going so well, and I think that is the main foundation for good leadership. You have to set a standard immediately and you have to lead by example, setting the standard. I think is most important.”
Adding to the challenge was the fact that Connor would be replacing a legend. Justice Spriggs had graduated the previous year after setting nearly every single season and career passing mark for the Pipers. It was not an understatement to say that he had some big shoes to fill, but Connor was not shying away from that challenge.
“There’s obviously some big shoes to fill. I do appreciate everything Justice did like, but I also like to create my own legacy. If I can be even as good of a leader as Justice was…great. I never got to meet the guy, but I’ve heard great things about him. I can’t worry about what he did though. I try to create my own type of legacy. If I can mimic anything that he did that’d be awesome, but I didn’t come here to be like Justice. I came here to prove myself to be the quarterback the team needs.”
A Learning Experience Like No Other
When you attend Hamline University, there is no doubt that your mind is going to be stretched in ways you could not have possibly imagined. It is an elite university like few others, and students leave the school as well prepared for the next stage of their life as one could ask.
For Connor Leavens, the learning experience didn’t end at the classroom. He would be leading a young team that was coming off a 1-9 season, and would be facing one of the hardest schedules in all of Division-III football, including facing three teams that were ranked in the top-10 during the season. He was truly about the face trial by fire.
“I knew this was going to be a challenge. The (teams in the MIAC) see us as an easy win, and there are a lot of really good teams. We just have to create championship habits here and earn their respect. We have to prove that we can be a winner and I think we are doing that in our habits.”
Those habits had to be learned by Connor as well. He had not been a starting quarterback in three years and admits that his first few starts were not as legendary as he would have liked.
“Buena Vista was my first college start. When I faced adversity I think I was kind of in panic mode especially in the first half. There were new schemes, different things to learn, and I had to learn with my teammates. It was obviously a learning experience at first.”
Learn is what Hamline students do best, and Connor is no different. He became more comfortable in his new role, continued to progress in his performance and it showed on the field.
After struggling in his first start, Connor helped lead the Pipers to an exciting victory over archrival Macalester College, 35-25. He completed 71.4% of his passes while throwing for four touchdowns. Even against national powerhouse St. Thomas, Connor threw for two touchdowns, one of only three quarterbacks to have multiple touchdown passes against the Tommies last season. He definitely grew as a player and a man as the season progressed.
“I got a lot more comfortable as a passer during the season. I learned the offense more, but I think I was making better decisions. That was something that had to improve. I got a lot better as my relationships with my teammates got better as well. They made it so I was more comfortable and they helped me feel more comfortable.”
A Turnaround on the Way?
It has been tough times at Hamline over the last two decades. The Pipers are 4-26 in their last three season and have not had a winning season since Bill Clinton was President.
However, there is a lot of enthusiasm at Hamline University. Coach Taylor has had outstanding recruiting classes the last two seasons, adding a lot of depth and a great deal of talent. This team may not be St. Thomas or St. John’s, but they are likely not going to be the doormat of the league any longer. The program is on the verge of turning things around, and no one would like to lead that charge more than Connor Leavens.
“We’re building a really good culture here in terms of senior leadership and I think we’re all on the same page as a team. Everybody wants to win. With the help of our great athletic director, Jason Verdugo, and our head coach we are going to be a good team. They’re great, great men and great mentors and they make it easy to be optimistic about this season for sure.”
Connor has proven himself to be an outstanding leader in just one season, but he came to the school as an impressive man already. That he owes to the two people who matter most to him.
“I lost my dad in 2016, so he never got to see me play in college, but I am living out his legacy. I want to work hard every day for him, and that is definitely something that keeps me going for sure.
“My mom is my biggest supporter. She didn’t’ want to see me go so far away, but she wanted me to be able to play football and to do what was best for me. She is great.”
No matter what obstacles have come his way, Connor Leavens has found a way to rise to the occasion. Now he waits for the country to get back to normal so he can get back on the gridiron to prepare for the upcoming season. When that happens, the 2020 season could be a really exciting one at Hamline University. This Piper of Hamline will not be leading rats away, but will likely be leading his team to victories.