MADISON TWP. — A conversation with Noah Lehman will lead to his love of football, archery and the tastiness of bacon-wrapped dove.
No, he is not your everyday high school senior.
Lehman plays for the Madison High School football team, the undefeated crew that’s trying to win a Division V state championship. The Mohawks are four wins away from that goal and will face Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy in a Region 20 semifinal Saturday night at Lakota East.
It’s especially important to Lehman because he didn’t play last season, a move that he called “arguably one of the worst decisions that I’ve ever made.”
Madison had its best season ever up to that point, and he sat it out. It wasn’t because he was lazy or lacked the drive to compete. His passions collided, and he had to make a choice.
“Do I regret not playing football … 110 percent,” Lehman said. “The first year I didn’t play and we go to the state semifinals. My parents believe if you’re dedicated to what you’re doing, you’re not just going to hit-and-miss it. If you’re in it, you’re doing it full time. So I didn’t play.”
His full-time extracurricular focus was bows and arrows, and it’s not just a hobby. It could turn out to be a lifelong career.
Lehman is pretty good with a bow in his hands. Good enough that he’s actually a three-time International Bowhunting Organization world champion in archery, a sport he picked up about four years ago.
That pursuit began with — what else? — YouTube videos.
“I was watching YouTube videos on hunting and a guy named Levi Morgan kept on popping up,” Lehman said. “So I went to his YouTube channel and saw how good of an archer he was. I was like, ‘He’s my inspiration. I want to be like him.’ In one night, it was like that. I went downstairs and told my dad I wanted to shoot a bow. He said, ‘All right,’ so we went out and bought one. Now I’m just hoping to make a living off of it.”
He’s been a hunter for a good portion of his life, most of it bow hunting. Lehman was 4 when he started tagging along on hunts, and he killed his first animal — a 4-point deer — at the age of 6.
“That’s honestly about the only thing I can remember from that age,” Lehman said. “I can tell you everything that happened that day, from the time I woke up to the time I went to bed that night.
“Me and my mom were hunting. We thought it was an 8-pointer because we could only see his right side. When we got over to him, he only had one giant horn. It was like Captain Hook on his left side. We never saw a deer like that in our life.”
Clearly it’s a hunting family with his parents Butch and Amy, and mom has the biggest deer in the family. They didn’t have to push their son when it came to hunting. He took to it naturally.
All hunters can hear the cries of animal-rights advocates. What doesn’t happen with the Lehmans is killing just for the sport of it. Noah was raised on a simple idea — if you kill it, you eat it.
“It doesn’t matter what it is,” Noah said. “Heck, we have raccoons that come in our garage and eat our cat food, and my dad’s like, ‘You shot it, you’re cooking it.’ So I’d throw it on the grill. If you cook it right, it’s pretty good.
“I’ve eaten snake, rabbit, squirrels, any kind of game bird, deer, bear — no, I didn’t kill the bear. I’ve probably eaten every animal you can eat and then some. When you go dove hunting, I think you’re allowed 15 a person. We eat every one of them. If you wrap it in bacon, it’s delicious.”
He captured two world archery titles in the 13-14 age group and one in the 15-17 division. His first professional event was in April of 2017, though he can’t officially turn pro and collect any winnings until he turns 18 in June.
Lehman has indoor and outdoor world championships. Indoor is what it sounds like, straight target shooting. Outdoor involves following a course and shooting three-dimensional targets that look like animals.
“They’re like full bodies, and they’ve got square rings on them for scoring,” Lehman said. “You’re dealing with rolling hills, shooting across creeks. When I check my phone at the end of the day, I walk like six miles, and that’s just one day of the tournament. They’re usually two days.”
You don’t have to be big to shoot a bow with accuracy — Lehman is 5-foot-8 and 150 pounds — but you do need hand-eye coordination, balance and upper-body strength.
“If you’re not in shape, it’s going to wear you out,” Lehman said.
His rise to pro events was right around the time Madison football started looking ahead to the 2017 season. Practice time for archers is consuming, and between that and tournaments, Lehman’s parents felt their son needed to pick a sport.
He chose archery because of the long-range possibilities, but what he came to understand was this: High school is short, and once it’s over, it’s gone for good.
Lehman spent long hours practicing with his bow last year, yet he still made it to every game as a spectator. It was thrilling and painful at the same time.
“The first game, I’m not going to lie, I teared up,” Lehman said. “I was like, ‘I would love to be out here with my guys and my friends.’ ”
There was no question in his mind that he would be coming back to play as a senior. He stopped shooting every weekend in August of 2017, but he had already committed to not playing football, so he stayed that course.
Now that he’s returned to football, he’s giving archery a little break. He hasn’t competed in a tournament since June, but will get back to indoor competition in January at the Lancaster (Pa.) Archery Classic.
On the football field, Lehman is a split end and cornerback. He led the Mohawks in receiving yards (five catches, 185 yards, two touchdowns) as a sophomore and is No. 1 again this year (six catches, 142 yards, two TDs).
The numbers are modest, but Madison doesn’t throw the ball very much in the Wing-T offense. Lehman is a big-play guy when he does see the ball.
“We should probably get the ball to him more,” Mohawks coach Steve Poff said. “He’s got some skills that other kids don’t have. He’s special as far as getting himself open and being dynamic on special teams, and defensively, he bounces around and can play different positions. He’s kind of the journeyman of the defense.”
Poff said Lehman is always taking things with a smile and bringing energy to the group. The coach said the team understood his reasons for not playing last year and didn’t hold it against him.
Lehman wouldn’t mind more balls being thrown in his direction, but he figures he’s going to be a part of the success one way or the other.
“When you’re making good blocks and they’re running by you and scoring touchdowns, you’ve just got to give them a big ol’ hug and keep on going,” Lehman said.
He recently started picking up a bow again to work on muscle memory for his return to archery. Lehman did get to meet Levi Morgan and now talks to him whenever he gets the chance, and he’d like to follow in Morgan’s footsteps and make this a career.
And that’s not just shooting. The real money comes from signing with a sponsor and includes archery and bow hunting shows.
Archery is an expensive sport between traveling, equipment and entry fees. On Lehman’s end, he said the sponsorship search is ongoing.
“His lifestyle is not what other people’s lifestyle is,” Poff said. “He splits wood all day and stacks it and hauls it to the house. He does work that most kids can’t do. And there’s very little he can’t bring to the ground with a bow.
“He’s ambitious as far as his adventures and the things he likes to do, but that’s part of his personality. For all that he’s helped us as far as winning games, that’s important. But just having him here is important, the positive energy that he brings and being a part of the family that we’ve got here.”
Lehman said he’s considering going to welding school if he’s not able to make a career out of archery. But he’s optimistic about the possibilities.
“Calling myself a world champion, it’s a different feeling,” Lehman said. “How many people that you talk to can say that they’ve won a world championship? I can never say the feeling that it’s given me and the opportunities that it’s given me, the sponsors that I’ve come across, the people I’ve met from all over the world.”
Football is his priority right now. He’s savoring every moment and wants to put a state championship in his memory bank.
“It’s pushing me to go hard every time I’m on the field,” Lehman said. “We’re going to claw, bite, scratch and do whatever we have to do to make it to Dec. 1. No one’s going to get in our way.”