By Bryant Billing
SIDNEY — A trip to Notre Dame led to Kelsey Weber going to Alabama.
Weber was one of three Lehman Catholic students that signed national letters of intent on Friday to play a sport in college. Weber signed with Alabama for rowing, while Owen Smith and Michael Bunker signed with Dayton and Indiana Wesleyan, respectively, for football.
Rowing was something Weber was barely aware existed as a competitive sport until taking a trip to Notre Dame in middle school. She saw the university’s rowing team practicing during the visit and became interested in the sport as a result.
Shortly after returning to Ohio, Weber joined the Greater Dayton Rowing Association and has competed with the organization since.
“I never expected myself to be going to Alabama, so it’s really exciting,” Weber said. “Insane, can’t believe it. Can’t put it in words.”
Abby Beach, who is Weber’s coach at GDRA, said having a positive attitude along with a strong competitive drive has led to her playing with a Division I program. The Association practices on the Great Miami River near Riverscape in downtown Dayton.
“I just made the drive today, and I can’t believe she drives this every day,” Beach said. “… She’s a great kid with a great heart with a bright future.”
Weber said she chose Alabama over La Salle, West Virginia and Adrian College. Alabama’s program is in its ninth season.
“Probably the diversity the most is why I chose (the school),” Weber said. “And being such a big school kind of drew me to it. It’s such a great rowing program.”
Smith was named the Northwest Central Conference offensive player of the year last season and was first team on offense and defense. He said he was recruited at Dayton by defensive coordinator Landon Fox and is going to play safety for the Flyers.
“It’s everything,” Smith said. “I’ve worked my whole life. To play in a Division I program and be so close to home, a university I’ve been passing every time I go south, is awesome.
“I’ve worked for this ever since I was in seventh grade. When I was in third grade, I told myself I want to play D-I football. Today, I accomplished that dream.”
Smith finished his career with 2,657 rushing yards and 35 total touchdowns. He had 57 tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery last season playing at cornerback.
Smith said he’s hoping to play as a freshman and will do what it takes to get on the field. The Flyers were 5-6 last season.
“I love the coaching staff,” Smith said. “It made me feel like I was welcome there. It made me feel like I’m part of the family. The facilities are great — they just got a new weight room. Great people to be around.
“The team around there has already been really welcoming and have texted me, telling me ‘Welcome to the family.’ It’s great people.”
Lehman football coach Richard Roll said Dayton is a good fit for Smith.
“Really, we played Owen out of position. We had him at cornerback and he is a true safety,” Roll said. “But, it is something we had to do. I think he has a lot of potential. Owen is a really hard worker. I think he is a lot like Dan (Jacob) I think he can go in and have a great impact.”
Smith said he’s happy to be attending college at a Catholic institution.
“I’m a faith-driven man, and I like that I can continue to be at a Catholic university,” Smith said.
Playing collegiate sports at a Christian institution was also important for Bunker. Indian Wesleyan is an evangelical Christian institution in Marion, Indiana. This fall will be the school’s first football season.
“It’s a start-up, so the only people that are there are sophomores and freshman,” Bunker said. “I think I can make a pretty big impact on the defensive line.
“Marion, Indiana has a small university with a football team, but they’ve been waiting for another for a long time. To be a part of that is really special.”
Bunker, who is 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, was first team all-NWCC as a defensive lineman and led the league with 13 sacks last season.
“I wasn’t always super tall and big,” Bunker said. “I was a short and stout little guy. I grew, and my parents put me in football, and I’ve kind of wanted to play college football since then. Not just to play college football, but get an education and college degree.”
Roll said Bunker has a huge upside in football.
“Michael still has a high ceiling,” Roll said. “He has so much potential. He has great size and speed. I think Indiana Wesleyan just got a gem. I think he can really be an outstanding player for them.”
Bunker says he will play defensive end for Indiana Wesleyan.
Lehman finished 10-1 in football last season. The Cavaliers had winning records and made the playoffs the last four seasons, and Bunker said he’s proud of the legacy he and Smith have left.
“I wish we could have gone further in the state last football season, but I’m proud that people around here are going to know me and Owen’s name for a long time because we’re two of the good players to come out of Lehman,” Bunker said.
As all three prepare to create another legacy at the next level.