JEFFERSON – Brady Lehman has always been passionate about the sport of football.
His interest in the aviation industry is relatively recent and was spurred by a conversation with a connection of his uncles who flies for Delta Air Lines. Soon, the two will come together.
Lehman, a senior at Jefferson High School, signed his National Letter of Intent to play football at the University of North Dakota next year as a preferred walk-on at JHS on the first day of the early signing period Dec. 15.
Lehman plans to enroll in the school’s department of aviation, which is the largest and one of the most well-respected in the country with state of the arc simulators and new aircraft, to become a commercial pilot.
“I looked into several other schools during the recruiting process,” Lehman said. “All of the arrows kind of pointed toward North Dakota with their aviation program as I look into my future after football.”
Lehman, at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, played defensive end the last three seasons for Jefferson, earning first-team all-conference accolades at both DE and offensive line this past season as the Eagles went 9-2 and reached Level 3 of the playoffs.
The Fighting Hawks, an NCAA Division 1 FCS school that competes in the newly formed Missouri Valley Football Conference, went 5-6 last season. Lehman figures to play outside linebacker in the team’s 4-4 defense.
“Their football program is cool,” said Lehman, who started attended games at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Perkins Stadium, where his dad, Rick, played early in the early 90s, at the age of four. “North Dakota plays games in the Alerus Center, which is a dome that’s indoor and heated. Practices are inside in a practice dome which will be nice because of the North Dakota elements.
“On gameday the dome — no matter whether there is 2,000 or 18,000 people in there — it’s really loud in there. Thought that aspect was cool when I was out there at the game. We’ll compete against a lot of schools in the Midwest, so my family will be able to get out to games. I enjoy having my family be able to watch me.”
‘It took some negotiating’
As a sophomore in 2019, Lehman wanted his chance to crack the varsity lineup. Defensive coordinator Aaron Erickson, who was new at the time, was willing to present that opportunity. However, it came with a caveat – switching from linebacker to defensive end.
“I was bummed at first since I didn’t want to be a lineman,” Lehman said. “It took some negotiating for me to switch, but I had an awesome first game. I absolutely loved the position and getting after the quarterback.”
Lehman recorded 62 tackles, including eight for a loss, and two sacks that season en route to being voted second-team all-conference.
The following spring, with much of the world as we knew it about to be shut down due to the pandemic, Lehman reached out to coaches far and near – often on Twitter – to share tape and get on schools’ recruiting radar.
“Minnesota Duluth was my first visit,” Lehman said. “I was playing outside linebacker at the camp and their coach loved me. That kind of gave me a wakeup call that you’re at a Division 2 school and standing out as a sophomore against juniors and seniors, that was pretty cool.
“I contacted more and more coaches and built connections with the ones that replied. That got the momentum going on playing college football.”
Jefferson head coach Steve Gee has watched Lehman grow and develop during his four seasons with the program and believes the Sky Hawks will be getting a driven player and a devoted student.
“They saw him in camp and were impressed with his motor from a physical perspective,” Gee said. “We saw that for three years when he was playing varsity with us. He is relentless. I think he’s going to be a great defender for them as an edge rusher.
“When you get to college, every guy has that extra spurt physically when they get there. He’s going to get bigger and stronger than he already is. They see a big upside to him.
“From Brady’s perspective, to be a preferred walk-on at the school he really wanted to go to is exactly what he wanted, so it worked out great. From the school’s perspective, they are going to have not only a motivated football player but a student who is really excited to be there as well.”
Gee praised Lehman’s work in the weight room as a reason for his constant improvement.
“The biggest thing I’ve noticed with him from his freshman year to now is something he really worked on and an important part of football, which is his hips,” Gee said. “He was physically strong and fast straight ahead. That ability to, what we refer to as loose hips, and be elusive, cut and avoid blocks on the defensive side is something I saw tremendous improvement from his sophomore year as a varsity player to his senior year. He worked on it in the weight room and in the summer to get better and be more flexible and athletic. Impressed with how far he’s come at that.”