BELTON — Regardless of what happens tonight, Slade LeBlanc is fully aware his high school career is coming to a close.
After spending the last two seasons as an invaluable offensive threat for Belton, the senior is simply running out of time, and there is absolutely nothing LeBlanc can do to avoid the inevitable.
So, instead of resisting reality, LeBlanc is embracing it.
“There are a couple of times throughout each game where I kind of step away from everybody and just have a moment with myself,” he said. “That is when I just kind of reflect and realize what a great position I am in. It is definitely hitting me now more than ever.”
With their season hinging on the outcome, LeBlanc and the Tigers travel to Bryan tonight for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff against Brenham (7-4) in the area round of the Class 5A-II playoffs. A victory propels Belton (9-2) into the third round for the first time since 1998, but a defeat concludes the program’s most successful season in recent history.
Just a few years ago, however, LeBlanc would not have envisioned himself in such a position either literally or figuratively.
After being introduced to the game at a young age, LeBlanc grew up playing linebacker. Upon arriving at high school, though, he switched to offense and recorded a single carry as a sophomore for the Tigers, who finished the 2020 season with an overall record 3-7.
Then, LeBlanc and Belton began to mature together.
As a junior, LeBlanc’s role expanded greatly, and he produced touchdowns as a rusher, receiver and passer, while also inheriting special teams duties as a kicker and punter as the Tigers snapped a two-year playoff drought.
“I love being able to serve as a placeholder for any position on the field,” he said. “I’ll line up anywhere I can. There is just no certain place I have to be, and I love that.”
This season, LeBlanc, who caught four passes last year while primarily serving as a dual-threat quarterback, emerged as one of the team’s top receivers.
LeBlanc leads Belton in receptions with 32 and is second in both yards receiving (474) and touchdowns receiving (six) behind senior Garrett Oliveira, who missed the previous four games with a torn ACL.
In Oliveira’s absence, though, LeBlanc is thriving.
On the heels of delivering a career-high seven catches for 140 yards and two scores in the Tigers’ 31-29 victory at Waco University to clinch sole possession of the District 11-5A-II championship, LeBlanc converted both of his receptions into touchdowns last week against Austin Northeast, helping Belton win its first playoff game since 2016.
Now, he looks to replicate the success versus the Cubs, who defeated the Tigers 42-7 in Week 2. LeBlanc believes that loss actually is advantageous.
“We are feeling pretty confident,” he said. “They think that this game is going to be easy breezy because they beat us earlier in the season, but we believe we have a good shot to win. We have changed a ton since then, and we are far more unified now.”
Nothing is guaranteed in the playoffs, though. While everything will be done to extend the season for as long as possible, LeBlanc understands soon there will be just memories he’ll cherish.
“I grew up going to Belton’s games and looking up to the players, so I’m just finding this whole experience to be amazing,” LeBlanc said. “I love hearing the kids cheering and seeing all the excitement they have when we score a touchdown or anything else great happens on the field.
“It just brings a huge smile to my face.”