Courtesy photo / Colorado Mesa Athletics
Paul Aiken / Staff Photographer
When Kyle Leahy pitched his last pitch for the Erie baseball team back in May 2015, Tigers head coach Harold Simmons bottom-lined his performance by saying it was just the beginning of things to come.
So, when in January the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame voting panel selected Leahy for the organization’s 2017 male college athlete of the year award — which will be presented Wednesday night as part of the Class of 2018 induction ceremony at the Hilton Denver City Center — Simmons was hardly surprised.
Leahy, on the other hand, may have needed a little time to figure out and research just what exactly that meant.
Yes, Kyle, it is a pretty big deal.
“He’s the kind of kid that thrives on competition … and I always thought he’d be a drafted kid at some point,” Simmons said last week. “He was a younger kid for his grade and I knew his development was still going to come, but his command was always as good as you can get. He got to Mesa he got there and just has flourished. But he gets it done in the classroom, too. Nothing would surprise me with him.”
“Once I sort of learned what is was and who would be there, it was definitely pretty cool,” Leahy added. “For me, it was just about going out and competing every day. There’s always room to get better, and you could have the best year of your life and still could have done better. Each week, that’s just what I was trying to do.”
The 54th annual induction banquet in headlined by the induction to the Hall of Fame of former Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and will also include the induction of former Colorado Buffaloes running back Rashaan Salaam and former Fairview football coach Sam Pagano.
Every year, from high school to the pros, a number of athletes are recognized for extraordinary efforts, as well. The college athletes recognized don’t have to be born in Colorado, but do have to attend Colorado colleges.
Leahy’s 2017 season for Colorado Mesa was mind-boggling: in helping the Mavericks reach the Division II College World Series, Leahy as a sophomore went 13-0 with a 1.41 earned-run average, striking out 96 batters in 108 innings while walking just 13 and allowing a microscopic .211 opponents batting average.
Some of the other names up for the honor, according to a person familiar with knowledge of the voting process, included Colorado’s Phillip Lindsay (football), Colorado State’s Michael Gallup (football) and the University of Denver’s Will Butcher (hockey).
Leahy said that last spring, he was fully immersed in what he wanted to do out on the mound after a freshman season that didn’t include a lot of playing time. Coming from being an ace on the Tigers’ staff for a couple years to being ‘just another arm’ on a top-tier Division II baseball team, Leahy worked hard to better himself between his freshman and sophomore seasons.
Colorado Mesa head coach Chris Hanks saw a different Leahy come out to the mound in a relief appearance at the beginning of the season, and he ended up starting 15 games including the team’s opener of the Division II CWS.
“Kyle was just super consistent and very competitive, and he just executed his pitches for strikes in a multitude of counts,” Hanks said. “He was clearly our leader on the staff last year, pitching from the one slot (in the rotation) and going up there in all the game one’s (of a series) against everybody else’s ace. He has a quiet demeanor, and you can read that as being passive, but he’s not at all between the lines. When he’s on the mound, he’s completely dialed in.”
“Magical is a good word to use because we came up just like two runs short in the World Series, but just everything about last year, when it all came together for everybody, I feel like my year was just a product of what the team was able to do,” said Leahy, who has a 17-strikeout game to his credit this season. “We got on a roll, and everybody was on the same page. Good connections and good friendships within the team. It was something where we didn’t want the season to end for those seniors.”
Also an exceptional student majoring in kinesiology, Leahy earned first team All-American and academic All-American honors, was awarded the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference’s Summit Award (top grade-point average among participants in the RMAC baseball tournament) and overall academic player of the year, and was a finalist for the Brett Tomko Award (for Division II’s pitcher of the year).