Former Grand Meadow star returns to football

Cory Sauter wasn't sure what to make of Caleb Leichtnam.

Grand Meadow native Caleb Leichtnam has had an excellent start to his football career at Southwest State in Marshall.

Cory Sauter wasn't sure what to make of Caleb Leichtnam.

That was last winter, when the former Grand Meadow and Rochester Community and Technical College standout defensive back transferred to Southwest Minnesota State in Marshall where Sauter is head football coach.

Sauter once starred at quarterback at Minnesota and also had a stint in the NFL. So he's been around.

But in coming to terms with Leichtnam, it wasn't immediate. Let's just say that Leichtnam isn't short on confidence and he's got a voice that carries.

"I'm pretty loud," Leichtnam said with a laugh. "The guys hear me when I'm out there."


Yes, the former RCTC All-American came riding into Marshall like a lead cowboy.

"When he first got here, I was trying to figure him out," Sauter said. "He was a little bit different than the other guys; he's got a certain edge to him."

It was an edge that Sauter soon came to embrace. He realized how much it worked.

"You've got to be a little bit of a free spirit when you play defense," Sauter said. "You have to have guys with a little bit of an edge and spunk to them. Defense is different than offense, where you want to stay calm and collected. Defensively, your back is always to the wall. You have to know how to overcome adversity."

There wasn't much adversity for Leichtnam to endure during his junior college All-American years at RCTC. He set JC football ablaze as a freshman with a national-record 20 interceptions. He followed that up with another excellent season as a sophomore.

From there, Leichtnam wanted to complete his dream. He was waiting for Division I offers. But they never came. So the 6-foot, 190-pounder tried the next-best thing. He headed to Iowa State as a preferred walk-on.

That didn't last. After taking one redshirt season there, Leichtnam didn't feel much "preference" coming his way. Believing he wouldn't get a serious shot at playing time, Leichtnam didn't go out for football last year at Iowa State. In his mind, his football career was done.

A familiar voice


But then the phone rang. It was a familiar voice. It belonged to Southwest State assistant coach Brian Frana. Frana was coaching at Upper Iowa when Leichtnam was a Grand Meadow senior, and recruited him then.

Now, Frana was taking a second shot at Leichtnam. Only this time he needed to convince him to become a football player again. Leichtnam, who had just spent his first fall watching football instead of playing it, didn't need much convincing.

He transferred to Southwest State in January and went full bore at the Mustangs' off-season conditioning.

"Working hard is (Leichtnam's thing)," said Sauter, who watched him go from the 220 pounds that he arrived at to his current 190. "He made a huge commitment to us. Caleb is someone you want on your team. He brings it every day in practice. I can't think of a single practice this year where I haven't noticed him."

Sauter noticed Leichtnam enough in the spring workouts to almost immediately make him a starting free safety. He's having no regrets. Leichtnam has helped Southwest State get off to a rare winning start this year, leading the 3-0 Mustangs in tackles and also with one interception.

It's been a happy marriage.

"Leichtnam has been a great addition for us," Sauter said. "He's got natural instincts and some things you can't coach. He's a good athlete who moves around well and has a mental feel for things. Plus, the other guys want to play football with him. They truly embrace being a teammate with him."

As for Leichtnam, he knew he missed football. But it took suiting up for his team's opener to remind him just how much.


"In our first game, against Minot State, I had that feeling I always used to get just before kickoff," he said. "It's something that I missed. It almost took my breath away."

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