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Dowagiac Dedication: High School honors former star running back

Published: Oct. 28, 2021 at 12:13 AM EDT
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DOWAGIAC, Mich. (WNDU) - Football is a numbers game. But some numbers can carry a little more weight than others.

“I’ve been wearing #2 since I was in Rocket Football and I was fortunate, I played football for 23 years,” says Brent Lesniak. “That number has traveled with me over my whole entire career.”

Lesniak is a former star running back at Dowagiac Union High School, and on Friday, the school honored him with a jersey dedication of his old #2.

“We started this as ‘let’s bring back our former athletes who went on & excelled at the next level’ as a way to show our current students what they can accomplish,” says Brent Nate -- current athletic director for Dowagiac Union High School, and former teammate of Lesniak.

Lesniak was a standout athlete at the small-town school in the mid-90s, running up records that still stand. He went on to play under a coach named Brian Kelly at Division-2 powerhouse Grand Valley State, and even did a brief stint in the Arena League. But even after all that, he says the energy of his old community is unmatched.

“Playing here at Dowagiac, the community is just so involved,” says Lesniak. “I just remember my whole childhood, Friday night the whole town shut down. Everybody came to the football games, it did not matter. Just tons of people here, and it was just an incredible feeling that I can honestly tell you I didn’t get anywhere else.”

Lesniak’s trademark at Dowagiac? His signature speed.

“Some guys build up; he was fast right from the start,” recalls Nate. “At every given play, he could have gone to the house.”

”I had to be fast ‘cause I’m about five-foot-six and 165 pounds,” Lesniak says with a laugh. “That’s what I played & when you’re my size, you’ve got to be fast, man ‘cause when you’re getting hit you’ve got to be able to take those hits.”

The jersey dedication served as a way to honor Lesniak’s legacy in the community -- a community he says he’s grateful to be from.

“I lived here my whole life,” says Lesniak. “I moved away about 10 years ago, but like I said I still try to come back. But this school will always hold a very special place in my heart & like I said, everything that they’ve done for me, I will always be grateful.”

“I think it’s a culmination of full-circle,” Nate says. “Growing up here, leaving and going to college, growing, coming back, and being recognized as one of our all-time great athletes here. It is attainable. We are a small town. We are, you know, 525 kids in the high school. You can go on to the next level. You can be successful. Just to show, here’s the proof. You see it all the time but no, this is somebody you know that walked through these halls from our town. You can do it.”

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