HOWARD – There’s a reason Kadden Lester called Wednesday “a day full of emotions.”
Now a multi-sport senior athlete at East Knox High School, Lester’s playing career began at the age of 5. He played rec-league baseball and flag football with his friends – two of them being Caleb Gallwitz and Dawson David. When he grew older, he began playing travel baseball with Cade Leach, who would eventually move into the school district after years of friendship.
GALLERY: East Knox signing day
Four East Knox seniors signed Wednesday to continue their athletic careers at the collegiate level. Kadden Lester committed to play football at Muskingum University; Caleb Gallwitz signed with Mount Vernon Nazarene University to play baseball; Cade Leach signed with West Virginia Wesleyan College to play baseball; and Dawson David signed with Ashland University to play football.
These four grew up together. They shed blood, sweat and tears together in the arena of competition.
On Wednesday, they sat side-by-side at a table in the high school cafeteria, pens in-hand. All four signed to continue their athletic careers at the next level.
“It’s awesome to do it [with] my brothers beside me,” Lester said afterwards.
All four seniors are multi-sport athletes at East Knox. They helped guide the Bulldogs to the football state semifinals last fall, and are hoping to make a deep tournament run on the baseball diamond this spring.
Lester, the quarterback and catcher, committed to play football at Muskingum University. Gallwitz, the tailback and center fielder, signed with Mount Vernon Nazarene University to play baseball. Leach, the wide receiver and shortstop, signed with West Virginia Wesleyan College to play baseball. And David, the linebacker and first baseman, signed with Ashland University to play football.
Parents, classmates and coaches filled the high school cafeteria to watch the young men make their commitments official on Wednesday afternoon. It was a bittersweet day for Lester; yes, he’s thrilled about the prospect of playing quarterback at the next level, but he’ll also miss the guys sitting next to him at the table that day.
“It’s different not knowing that they’re going to be around, because I’ve been playing with them since I was a little guy, like since I can first remember,” Lester said. “It’s definitely different. But I know that for them as well as myself, we’ll always have each other to fall back on. We’ll know where we came from.”
Lester, a three-year starter at quarterback for East Knox, was named Div. VI second-team all-Ohio last fall. He completed 167 of his 262 passes (63 percent) for 2,287 yards, 25 touchdowns and five interceptions. He led a Bulldog offense that scored 40 points per game and seemed unstoppable until the state semifinals.
Lester chose Muskingum over several other Ohio Athletic Conference schools, he said, because of how he felt while visiting the campus.
“I love it,” he said. “It’s a tight-knit community. The coaches are all-in, the players are all-in, and it feels like home.”
Lester plans on studying biology, either on an education or physician’s assistant track.
While some high school football players might be content with finishing their careers after a historic senior season, Lester said he felt different. Over the last three years, Lester said his passion for the game has grown. He couldn't hang up the cleats just yet.
“I love the game. I’m a competitor, I love the game, I like being in those situations. I just don’t think it’s time for me to be done with it yet,” Lester said with a smile. “As long as it’s still in my future, and God willing, then I’ll keep on going.”
Gallwitz, who earned all-state recognition last fall as the Div. VI co-offensive player of the year, is also known as one of the area’s top baseball players. His speed transfers well to the diamond – a terror on the basepaths, he also has exceptional defensive range – and his hitting abilities are top-notch. Gallwitz hit .524 last season (second in the Knox Morrow Athletic Conference) and was named first-team all-KMAC.
Gallwitz said he chose MVNU for several reasons. First, he plans to major in middle childhood education – the goal is to become a middle school teacher – and Gallwitz said “MVNU is known for their education department.”
Second, Gallwitz is eager to play for MVNU coach Keith Veale, who was recently inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame.
“The community and family aspect that he has going on at the Naz, I think, is also what drew me into it, coming from a small school like East Knox,” Gallwitz said. “He has a really good program and I look forward to spending time in that atmosphere.”
Third, Gallwitz is the first to admit, “I’m kind of a homebody.” He likes the idea of playing and attending school 10 minutes from home.
“That was a big part of the decision for me,” he said.
After the season Gallwitz had on the football field last fall – the senior ran for 2,841 yards and 48 touchdowns – one might wonder why he chose to continue his baseball career instead.
Gallwitz said the decision wasn’t easy.
“Football is a sport that I love deeply, but it wasn’t always the sport that I loved about it, it was the brotherhood in the locker room – the guys that I grew up with in the locker room, that relationship. I think that’s what I loved about football," he said.
"But with baseball, the same characteristics go into that, but I also just love playing the game. I think I will miss playing football with my friends and the relationships that I built, but I might not miss everything else about football.”
Leach, who led the KMAC with six regular-season home runs last spring, chose D-II West Virginia Wesleyan over several other D-II and D-III schools.
“It was a great fit,” he said. “I mean, I love West Virginia. I’ve been down there a few times. I got offered good money, so I thought it’d be a good offer to take… Wesleyan was the best option for me.”
Leach is somewhat of an East Knox transplant. He grew up in Ontario and started high school at Newark Catholic. When he was looking to transfer after his freshman year, Leach considered East Knox the top option.
“I knew all the guys – I knew Caleb, Kadden and Dawson,” he recalled. “I played baseball with them, travel ball, so I thought it’d be a great fit.”
He was right. Leach has anchored a Bulldog baseball team that’s become increasingly competitive in the KMAC over the last three years. The Bulldogs will bring back a majority of their starters this spring, and will look to make a run at their first conference championship.
They’ll also look to make another deep postseason run, as their 2019 campaign ended at the hands of rival Fredericktown in the district finals.
“I expect us to be pretty good,” Leach said. “I mean, we’ve all matured, we work hard, and I think we got it.”
Leach plans to study pre-physical therapy at West Virginia Wesleyan. He wants to become a physical therapist one day, after seeing what the job entails up-close a few years ago.
“I just like helping people,” he said. “I broke my ankle back eighth grade year and I went through physical therapy with a physical therapist and I just loved it. And I asked him how much money he made, he made good money, so I thought it’d be a good choice.”
David, a three-year starter on the baseball diamond, was East Knox’s defensive sparkplug on the football field last fall. He earned first-team all-Ohio honors for his play at linebacker, leading the team in tackles, sacks, and tackles-for-loss. Listed at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, David overwhelmed offensive lines with his speed, technique and motor.
The decision to sign with Ashland was partially familial, David said. His older brother, Dylan, was an offensive lineman for the Eagles before becoming an assistant coach. Dawson said he has always felt a special connection to the school, located less than an hour north of his hometown.
“I just fell in love with it five years ago, ever since my brother committed to the same school,” David said. “My older brother ended up attending Ashland, too, so it just runs in the family. I want to continue the legacy there...
“Just the fact that they wanted me at all, I’m blessed. I’m glad I can go there.”
David plans to study business administration at Ashland, with a minor in finance. He hopes to open his own business one day.
Similar to Lester, David said he wasn’t quite ready to hang up the cleats after East Knox’s historic 2019 season. He believes the experience last fall will help him at the next level. After earning a trip to the postseason for the first time since 2005, East Knox overcame second-half deficits twice to win in the playoffs. David was a key catalyst to those comebacks.
“We battled through adversity a lot. It’s taught me a bunch of life lessons and I have a bunch of bonds and friendships that will last a lifetime,” David said. "The way we fought all year, I think it’s going to carry into where I play anywhere, just that experience.”
Among those in attendance Wednesday were Cody Reese and Randy Baughman, East Knox’s football and baseball coaches, respectively. Both said they were proud of the signees, attributing their opportunities at the next level to their leadership and work ethic.
“It means a lot. It’s a testament to not only the sports that they play with us, but to their own personal lives, how hard they work – their work ethic not only in school, but outside of school,” Reese said.
“To see them be able to go to the next level in football and baseball, it’s just great for our programs, and hopefully it gets more kids excited to get out and be a part of our programs. Hopefully it’s a testament to where our programs have come so far, and hopefully we can continue getting better and growing every year.”
Baugher added that all four student-athletes have benefited from strong family support systems, which are often crucial to success on and off the field.
“They have family members that care about them; take them where they need to go; encourage them to be in the right place, doing the right thing at the right time; and a lot of kids don’t have that,” Baugher said. “So right there, it shows you how important a good family foundation is for kids.”