Ben Leonard was in jazz band class earlier this week when a Chicago area code popped up on his cellphone.
Moments later, the Mountlake Terrace High School senior was left practically speechless.
It was a call from DePaul University in Chicago — his dream school — informing him he’d received a significant scholarship to attend its School of Music.
“That was my top school and I’d been waitlisted from it, so this was crazy that they called me out of pretty much nowhere and let me know that,” Leonard said. “I was kind of at a loss. I couldn’t talk for a second.”
Leonard, a skilled saxophonist, has played with the Mountlake Terrace jazz band in New York City’s historic Lincoln Center. He’s part of a jazz trio that performs various gigs around the area. And now, he’s headed with a music scholarship to his top college choice.
Yet while his future lies in music, Leonard also is busy focusing on another area he’s adept at — protecting the net.
The multitalented Leonard has been a key addition to the Mountlake Terrace boys soccer team this spring, anchoring the Hawks’ steady defense with strong goalkeeping.
In his first season with the Hawks, he’s been instrumental to a defense that’s posted six shutouts and allowed just 19 goals in 16 matches — including a mere two goals in their past five contests heading into Thursday’s Class 2A Northwest/Sea-King Bi-District tournament opener.
“He’s having a really fine season for us,” Mountlake Terrace coach George Dremousis said. “He’s kept us in a lot of games.”
Leonard began playing premier soccer at about age 10 and continued up until two years ago before electing to focus on jazz. The following school year, he transferred from Kamiak to spend his last two years of high school in Mountlake Terrace’s renowned jazz program.
Leonard, who played high school soccer during his freshman and sophomore years at Kamiak, didn’t turn out for the Mountlake Terrace team last year. But with some encouragement from Dremousis — who also is Leonard’s Advanced Placement government teacher — the talented saxophonist returned to the soccer pitch this spring.
“One day maybe two months into the school year, he kind of casually mentioned that he used to be a premier goalkeeper,” Dremousis said. “And I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? … You’ve gotta come out this year.’ And I couldn’t have been more happy that he (did). He’s done great.”
Leonard primarily played in the field during his premier soccer days, but eventually transitioned to goalkeeper. He continued to train as a goalkeeper even during his year-plus hiatus from competitive soccer.
“He’s really, really good going to the top side of the net,” Dremousis said. “I sit at practice and try to beat him top side, and I have a hard time doing it. He’s really quick getting to the corners. He’s got really good reflexes (and is) really sure-handed. He’s not going to make mistakes. … (He’s) everything you want in a keeper.”
And despite juggling a busy schedule between soccer, music and school, Leonard has spent plenty of extra hours training this spring with former all-conference goalkeeper Genaro Ruiz, who graduated from Mountlake Terrace two years ago.
“That’s what I respect about the kid,” Dremousis said of Leonard’s work ethic. “If anyone would (deserve) some time off, it’d be him.”
Leonard has been balancing soccer and music for much of his adolescence, dating back to sixth grade when he spotted a saxophone at a music store.
“I thought it looked really cool,” he said, “and then I actually started to listen to it and got into it.”
One of the most memorable experiences of his musical career came last spring when he traveled to New York City with Mountlake Terrace’s jazz ensemble, which was one of 15 finalists to compete in the prestigious Essentially Ellington national high school jazz band competition.
Leonard also is part of a jazz trio — along with friends and classmates Josh Setala (drums) and Andrew Vinther (bass) — known as Blue North Trio.
Complete with their own business cards, the trio typically plays once or twice a week at various locations across the area. They have performed regularly at Red Twig Cafe and Bakery in Edmonds, and also have done gigs at Seattle locales such as Egan’s Ballard Jam House and the Museum of Flight. In the near future, they are planning to play at a wedding.
It all keeps Leonard plenty busy. But whether he’s making saves or hitting notes, Leonard manages to excel.
“He’s got the complete package,” Dremousis said. “I wish I’d had him for four years, but we’re lucky to have him, and I look forward to hearing him play the (saxophone) down the road somewhere.
“He’s a well-rounded individual,” he added, “… (and a) very mature, very bright young man.”