Eli Heidenreich

Eleanor Bailey/The Almanac

Eli Heidenreich earned The Almanac MVP honors for his standout season, helping Mt. Lebanon capture WPIAL and PIAA championships and posting a 15-0 record. As a wide receiver, he caught 54 passes for 1,330 yards and 20 scores. He rushed for an additional 647 yards and 7 more touchdowns. He also led the defense with 60 tackles. A Navy recruit, Heidenreich also returned punts and kickoffs for the Blue Devils, who finished 15-0 overall.

Eli Heidenreich recognizes his limitations, even if there aren’t many, as the Mt. Lebanon senior was named The Almanac football MVP.

“That’s amazing,” Heidenreich said. ”I’m honored, appreciative and thankful, but it’s absolutely because I am surrounded by fantastic teammates and great leaders on and off the field. When you have a line up front and a great quarterback like we did it’s easy to run and catch passes.”

Heidenreich caught 54 passes for 1,330 yards and 20 touchdowns. He also threw for one score out of the Blue Devils’ Wildcat offense.

He rushed for an additional 647 yards and seven more touchdowns as Lebo ripped through the competition on its way to a 15-0 record and conference title to along with WPIAL and PIAA Class 6A championships.

Heidenreich wasn’t just a productive cog for a high-powered offense that averaged 164.87 passing and 277 rushing yards per game while racking up 38.7 points per game. In spearheading a defense that limited the opposition to 11.5 points per game, he recorded a team-high 60 tackles with four interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown, and added a fumble recovery.

On special teams, he returned 14 punts for 223 yards and another score. He had five kickoff returns for 66 yards.

“Eli’s extremely talented. Explosive,” said Lebo head coach Bob Palko. “His route running, pass-catch and running ability enabled us to do so much. He gave us so many different packages and looks. As a safety, too, he allowed us to do special things.”

Significant achievements came Heidenreich’s way because of the discipline and work he put into his craft.

After the 2020 season ended in a 35-0 loss to Central Catholic, Heidenreich hit the weight room with his teammates. In January, the lifting continued but the Blue Devils added twice-a-week workouts at the Southpointe Fieldhouse. They did drills, field training and route running. They met for meetings and studied films.

“It was exciting to watch Eli play and master his craft but nobody saw the amount of time he and his teammates spent developing their skills and bond,” Palko said. “Success didn’t happen by accident but it’s easy to win when your best players are the hardest workers and holding the others accountable.”

Heidenreich’s success does not begin and end on the gridiron. He maintains a 4.4 GPA, is a member of the National Honor Society and Computer Science Club and also builds computers.

He also is the starting second baseman on Lebo’s baseball team, which reached the WPIAL quarterfinals last spring.

Heidenreich earned an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy and will play football for the Midshipmen.

“I’m really looking forward to my Plebe year,” Heidenreich said. “I feel like the rigorous curriculum at Mt. Lebanon has prepared me and the physical conditioning football has given me will also help me. Moving forward, I feel I will be well-conditioned and ready to go.”

Heidenreich is not prepared yet to give up the recent memories of beating St. Joe’s Prep, 35-17, in the PIAA Class 6A final. In that championship game, Heidenreich led the Blue Devils with 8 solo and 1 assisted tackles. He also scored a touchdown in the game played at Hersheypark Stadium.

“Winning the state title was amazing. My personal highlight for sure,” Heidenreich said. “It’s hard to put into words how happy and satisfying the season was for me, my teammates and coaches. It couldn’t get any better. So much work, time and effort went into this and it all paid off.”

For Lebo, the dividends were huge, particularly in the playoffs. The Blue Devils dominated the competition, winning three games by invoking the mercy rule.

Establishing themselves early in Quad County Conference play was critical to the Blue Devils’ success. Heidenreich cited wins against North Allegheny, 51-20, and Central Catholic, 35-14, as critical to building Lebo’s psyche.

“We had success from our first games but those teams we were expected to beat,” Heidenreich said of crosstown rivals such as Bethel Park, Upper St. Clair and Peters Township. “Our first real test was when we first played NA. It definitely was an indicator of what the season would be like after that.

“After Central, we knew we absolutely had a chance to win WPIALs as well as the PIAA.”

Heidenreich said the Blue Devils were shocked by the margins of victories.

Lebo whipped Central Catholic, 47-7, in the WPIAL championship game. In the PIAA semifinals, the Blue Devils thumped State College, 49-28.

Heidenreich excelled against the Little Lions. He scored five touchdowns, caught eight passes and accounted for 280 yards of offense.

“I was surprised by how we dominated and how well we beat these (playoff) teams but I was not shocked because of the chemistry and relationships we have among the teammates and coaches,” he said. “We never really doubted ourselves. We worried about ourselves and focused on what we could control in our preparation.”

Almanac Sports Editor

An award-winning journalist, Eleanor Bailey has been employed by Observer Publishing Company since 1982. She is the sports editor at The Almanac and a contributor for the Observer-Reporter.

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