For Cam Leeman, playing football for Andover High wasn’t just his dream, it was also a birthright.
Growing up, he was enthralled by the stories of Andover football told time and time again by his grandfather and father, both former Golden Warriors.
And when his older brother T.J. Leeman was starring as a lineman for Andover, Cam was a fixture on the sidelines as a water boy watching his heroes in Blue and Gold.
“I grew up dreaming of Andover football,” said Cam. “I was raised on the stories and I wanted to be just like my brother. So when I got the chance to play for Andover I was so thrilled. It was such an honor, and still is to this day.”
Now a starting guard and the anchor of Andover’s offensive line — a 6-foot-3, 240-pound tank with flowing hair past his shoulder pads — Leeman will play the final game of his football career on Thanksgiving.
On Thusday, Andover will play Year No. 2 of its new Thanksgiving Day rivalry with North Andover when the Scarlet Knights travel to Eugene V. Lovely field for a 10 a.m. kickoff.
The Warriors won a thriller last fall, making a stop at the goal line in the game’s final seconds.
“This is the game everyone’s been waiting for,” said Leeman. “Everyone is thrilled. We had a tough loss to Everett (in the Division 1 North final) last week, but we are going to rally together and finish strong.
“We love playing North Andover. We may have only played them one year on Thanksgiving, but it has always been an amazing rivalry. I had my eyes closed when Mikey (Comeau) recovered the onside kick last season.”
Andover coach E.J. Perry IV said the play of Leeman on the line was a major reason for Andover’s resurgence in the second half of the season, which included state tournament upsets of Lexington and St. John’s Prep.
“Leeman brings toughness, a great mental attitude and lots of tradition to the team,” said Perry. “He’s been a starter for two years and the anchor of our line for the last two years. He comes from a great tradition of football and he has made his own mark on the family legacy.”
The family’s football tradition began with Cam’s maternal grandfather Arthur Ricci, a Warrior captain that went on to become chief of the Andover police. He continues to attend every game cheering on his grandson.
Cam’s father Tim Leeman later was a standout for the Golden Warriors, where he was a teammate with now-coach Perry.
“He was No. 82 and I was No. 83 on the team,” said Perry. “Cam has similar size and toughness to his father. But he is a little more laid back. T.J.’s personality is a lot more like their father’s.”
Next on the list was Cam’s brother T.J. Leeman. As a junior, T.J. helped Andover win the Merrimack Valley Conference Division 1 title, and as a senior co-captian in 2011 he started on the offensive and defensive line, making 29 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
“I was on the sidelines watching T.J. and I wanted to be just like him,” said Cam of his brother, who played at Saint Anselm before a knee injury ended his career.
“In my opinion he is one of the best lineman to ever come through Andover High. He was amazing and I wanted to play the game just like him.”
After seeing limited varsity time as a sophomore, it was Cam Leeman’s time to shine last season when he earned a starting spot at guard.
“In the beginning I was very nervous,” he said. “But once I started playing I realized it was just playing football again. But it has been an amazing honor to be playing football for Andover.”
As an offensive lineman for Andover — of course — his No. 1 job for the last two seasons has been to protect Boston College-bound superstar QB E.J. Perry IV.
“The job is protect E.J.,” he said with a laugh. “Every time we see E.J. get hit we have to run over and make sure he is OK. You always feel terrible when he gets hit. But we just have to work as a unit. And I have always played with E.J., so I’m used ot all the pass protection.”
Since he does not plan to play college football, Leeman is emotional about Thanksgiving, which he expects will be his final game on the gridiron.
“It all went by so fast,” said Leeman. “It feels like just yesterday I was playing in the AJFL. I know this is my last game, but I don’t think it will sink in until after the game. Right now, all that matters is that we close out the year with a win over North Andover.”
Who: Andover (5-5) vs. North Andover (4-6)
When: Thanksgiving Day, 10:30 a.m.
Where: Eugene V. Lovely Field, Andover
Last year: Andover won the inaugural Thanksgiving matchup 42-41 on a stop at the goal line with 0:34 left in the game
Reach sportswriter/videographer David Willis on Twitter at @DWillisET