On January 28, Kaigen Fields lost his best friend since second-grade.
Crawfordsville junior Michael Leak tragically passed away in a car accident — leaving dozens of friends like Fields and an entire Athenian community behind.
Leak, who had been involved with the football, baseball, wrestling, and track programs, was always the life of the party. During Crawfordsville’s winless season last fall, it was Leak who kept the energy buzzing on the field, in the locker-room, and in the weight room. It was his energy that stood out and it’s his 17-years of vibrant life that is missed most by his teammates, classmates, family, and friends.
“Michael meant the world to me,” Fields said. “He was the first friend that I ever had. We’ve been best friends since second-grade and playing football with your best friend, that’s something that every kid wants to do.”
When Leak passed away, the focus for his senior teammates quickly turned into dedicating their seasons to their fallen teammate.
“Michael Leak possessed a personality that made him a leader on our football team,” Crawfordsville football coach Kurt Schlicher said. “His teammates have dedicated themselves to honoring his memory.
“We have always tried to emphasize playing for one another and the name on the front of our jersey, but this season we have added playing for Michael Leak to that list as well.”
Leak’s leadership on the field was on the defensive side of the ball. As a junior, he tallied 26 tackles, including three for a loss — and was expected to be a key component for the Athenians this season. And without him, it’s been up to the other seniors to step up and play in his honor.
“I’m going hard every single play, because he was always the one that if you ever hung your head,” Evan Chaney, who leads the Sagamore Conference with 43 tackles, said, “he was the one encouraging you. So I’ve just been giving it my all every single play.”
It’s who Michael Leak was — a hard worker, who was always there to lift his teammates up.
“Mike as a teammate, he was just one of the hardest workers,” Ethan Powell said. “He gave 100% on every single play. And just overall a team player and great guy.”
The class of 2022 at Crawfordsville has always been a tight-knit group, and it got even closer this summer when a handful of Leaks’ friends joined the football program to play in honor of him. That includes Austin Motz, who gave up his No. 1 singles spot in tennis to play a new sport for a struggling team.
“I’ve been playing tennis all throughout high school, and I decided to switch it to football after what happened to our friend Leak, and I know he’s watching over us this season,” Motz said.
And it’s been worth every sacrifice.
“It’s been hard at times, because I hadn’t played with him before, and they had all played with him before,” Motz said. “So just them getting used to him not being out here is hard for everyone, but we know he’s still up there watching. This is where I need to be this season.”
An absence the Athenians have felt the most this season was Leak’s ability to lighten the mood and keep everybody laughing. Even if sometimes it went a little overboard.
“Michael, he’s my buddy,” Alex Hernandez said. “He lived a few houses down from me. He was the class clown and funny. There were a few times in practice where he got in trouble for joking around, and that’s just who he was.”
Leak’s biggest contribution off the field was his ability to outwork almost everyone in the weight room. And it’s no coincidence that’s been the biggest area if improvement for the Athenians this season.
“He had this bench press lift called the ‘Michael Leak’ and you put a bunch of weight on each side and every time you do five reps you take a plate off and we really worked on that all summer and everybody got their bench up,” Powell said.
Everything the Athenian football team has done since January 28 has been about honoring Leak. From hanging his jersey in the locker-room, to running 53-yard sprints from sideline to sideline after practice — it’s been all about the player who never made it to his senior season.
“We’ve been playing for Michael, and doing everything for him,” Hernandez said.
And while Crawfordsville is still searching for its first win in 2021, his teammates are positive Leak would be proud of the improvements they’ve made — but they also know winning is the ultimate way to honor him.
And with the biggest games of the season on the horizon — starting with a trip to county rival Southmont tonight — that’s exactly what they plan to do.
“We will win county this year, and I think he will be really proud,” Fields said.