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Owen's Leighton a natural leader

Multisport star expecting a breakout year for the Warhorses


9:48 PM, Aug. 21, 2012 EDT

Owen senior Cole Leighton is a linebacker/running back for the Warhorses. / John Fletcher/Jfletcher@citizen-times.com

SWANNANOA

Cole Leighton has been chomping at the bit for his senior year at Owen. So far, so good.

Leighton was part of a 65-6 blowout win Friday at Brevard with a team-high 83 rushing yards and the second-most solo tackles (five) of any Warhorses football player.

He is also the reigning Western Highlands Conference Wrestler of the Year -- Leighton went 37-5 at 182 pounds as a junior and was the 2-A Western Regional champion before placing third at the NCHSAA 2-A tournament.

Team-wise, Owen won its first conference dual-team wrestling championship in 20 years.

"I'm just trying to be a leader," Leighton said.

"We have a lot of seniors, but I want to be someone that everybody looks to. God has granted me with so much talent, and I'm just trying to fulfill it."

Leighton's father is a local minister and he transferred from the North Buncombe district to Owen midway through his sophomore year of high school.

The Warhorses are hoping to rebound from last year's 4-8 season and Leighton figures to play a prominent role.

He is alternating between fullback and tailback for the Warhorses (1-0), who host Erwin on Friday. Defensively, Leighton varies between inside and outside linebacker.

He had 308 rushing yards and 49 tackles in 2011.

"I didn't really know what to expect when I came here to Owen but it really has become like home," Leighton said.

"I love to run the ball for us, but I love to hit somebody, too. I think we can be a really good team. We just have to stay focused on the task at hand and keep confident."

Longtime Owen football coach Kenny Ford said that Leighton brings a lot of intangibles to his team.

"Cole's a great kid from a great family," Ford said.

"He does a lot for us, and for us to be successful, we need him to have a big year."

The last two football games between Erwin and Owen have been decided by a combined 11 points. Ford is wary about the speed he sees on film, especially after watching Warriors junior Kelman Simpson, who had a 206-yard, four-touchdown performance in Erwin's 41-19 win over Mountain Heritage last Friday.

"My eyeballs can't catch up," Ford said.

"They're so daggone fast that I've got to put the film in slow motion to watch them."

 

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