Football coaches always look for the best opportunity to match up well against their opponents, and Justin Northwest’s Leo Saldana gives the Texans many ways to achieve that goal.
The senior receiver is 6-4, 190 and can clock a 4.5, 40 time.
While he can reel in a ball from most any angle, his biggest advantage may be under his helmet.
“He can play any wide receiver position needed to create mismatches with his height,” said Bill Poe, Northwest’s head coach. ““He’s a very smart, savvy player for us.”
Saldana said his offseason, after an average year of stats for him personally, was focused on running routes and improving his acceleration off the ball.
His stats from last year — 34 receptions for 341 yards and four touchdowns — were nearly matched in the first three games this year.
In those three Texans’ wins, Saldana has caught 17 passes for 305 yards and two scores. He also picked up a rushing touchdown on a 39-yard run. He got 88 yards on seven catches and another touchdown in a Week 5 loss to Haslet Eaton.
And with Northwest having a heralded running game thus far, Saldana doesn’t seem to feel that’s hindering his ability to be a target in the passing game.
“DaMareus [Hosey] draws a lot of attention, and defenses are so concerned about him that it opens up the passing game. It’s good for us,” Saldana said.
Another element of Saldana’s versatility is aiding the running game.
“He’s also been vital to the run success with his ability to play tight end,” Poe added.
With each passing week comes a more concrete realization that his senior season is getting shorter.
He’s the lone returning senior in the set of receivers and his leadership is proving pivotal.
“He’s a great leader that all of our younger players look up to,” Poe said.
“Knowing it’s our last year, we’re just trying to make it the best we can make it,” Saldana said.
And to try and accomplish that task, Saldana opted to play soccer and run track last spring to help him improve his speed and agility. He and his teammates took on the grind of summer workouts and did what they could to be ready for the start of a season with plenty of high expectations.
The daily task was to continue practicing catching the ball.
“It’s just a matter of keeping an eye on the ball and looking it in,” Saldana said, perhaps making it sound a bit simpler than it really is.
With his speed, good hands and improved route-running, Saldana said he loves to run deep patterns where he can make a big play.
“Prince [Mavula, the Northwest QB] gets me the ball,” he said.
But look for the red-zone opportunities for Saldana to use his vertical leaping ability to snare a lob pass, too.
It’s likely going to be off a mismatch with the defender.
Looking for Saldana?
Saldana’s jersey number is 3, but if the Texans are at home, check for No. 10 if there’s no 3 on the field. Saldana said the blue No. 3 jersey has been missing from the equipment room, so he’s sporting his number from last season number.