High School Football

Their youth football teams wouldn’t let them carry the ball. Now, they’re glad

Southlake Carroll guard Matthew Leehan (55) and offensive lineman Jackson Kimble (72) celebrate a touchdown in a September game.
Southlake Carroll guard Matthew Leehan (55) and offensive lineman Jackson Kimble (72) celebrate a touchdown in a September game. Special Contributor

Sometimes something happens that isn’t appreciated at the moment, but years later it reaps benefits.

Such is the case with Southlake Carroll teammates and senior offensive linemen Jackson Kimble and Matthew Leehan.

“In youth league, if you’re over the weight limit, you can’t carry the ball,” Leehan said. “So we were put on the line. Now, it’s a blessing in disguise.”

The two best friends have been playing on the offensive line ever since. Leehan got started in second grade and Kimble in fourth grade. It was in junior high they joined forces on the same team, and that has carried over to high school.

“I really started loving playing on the line in ninth grade, when I started knocking people down,” Kimble said with a laugh.

Kimble now stands 6-5 and weighs 270 pounds. Leehan is 6-1 and 260.

I remember in middle school we double-teamed a defender and drove him about 30 yards down the field.

Jackson Kimble, on playing with best friend Matthew Leehan

And when they say the play on the offensive line, they have actually played virtually every spot along the line in their career, which includes three seasons on the varsity.

Kimble played left tackle as a sophomore, moved to right tackle last season and is back at left tackle this season. He also played left guard as a freshman.

Leehan moved from guard to center this season.

“The biggest challenge was pass blocking,” Kimble said. “It’s almost like your hips totally shift.

“It’s like if a batter is used to hitting right-handed and then switched to left. But I want to be that guy who can play all types of positions.”

Leehan said the hardest part of his adjustment — he’s never played center before — is how much quicker he has to respond to the defense.

“People don’t realize how much closer you are to the defense,” he said. “I’m put on an island, facing the noseguard 1-on-1. You have to get your steps down right away.”

Kimble has committed to play at Baylor next season. He plans to study business.

Leehan hasn’t committed yet, but wants to play at an Ivy League school or perhaps Colorado School of Mines and study engineering or economics.

“We’ve known our whole lives education is so important,” Leehan said. “We love football and want to play as long as we can, but our education will always come first.”

This, along with numerous other reasons, is why Dragons coach Hal Wasson said they are “great ambassadors for our program.”

Wasson also said he “couldn’t be prouder of them” for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was making the sacrifice to adjust to another position for the good of the team.

“The greatest compliment a player can get is that he is a great teammate,” Wasson said. “They exemplify this.”

There is, however, a friendly rivalry between the two friends. For example, only one player can be named the team’s Offensive Lineman of the Year.

“We’re trying to make each other better,” Kimble said. “We’re helping each other, but we both want that honor. But if one of us gets it, we’ll be happy for the other.”

Both have had some impressive items to add to their resume this season. Kimble was named to the Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Top 30 offensive linemen in the preseason, and Leehan came close to a school record in production points, Kimble said.

Each has a favorite memory of their time playing together.

“I remember in middle school we double-teamed a defender and drove him about 30 yards down the field,” Kimble said.

“After we beat (Broken Arrow) Oklahoma, I gave Jackson a hug. It was a great way to start our senior season,” Leehan said.

As has been the case for nearly two decades, the Dragons reached the postseason again. Even if the team goes on to win another state championship, their time together in a Carroll uniform will come to an end. However, they both stress that their days as a Dragon will never end — and while they may be at different schools next year, the friendship will always be strong.

“Come the end of the season, it’ll be bittersweet, but we’re focusing on the rest of the season at the moment,” Kimble said.

“We’ll definitely continue working out together until we go to separate colleges,” Leehan said.

Who knows? Had they gotten to carry the ball when they were young, they may not be carrying all these memories with them as they move through life.

Leehan recalled something his dad told him. His father played football at a high school in the Tulsa area and then played basketball at Air Force.

“He said there was nothing like wearing that uniform in high school,” Leehan said. “He never forgot that.”