ANNA — It was a time of celebration on Wednesday, Feb. 7, in the Anna High School library as two Coyote All-District football players signed National Letters of Intent to continue their athletic and educational careers at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

Running back Aaron Lee and offensive lineman Jeran Lewis were surrounded by family, teammates and coaches as they made their decisions official on National Signing Day.

“Both of them have started for us here for three years and have been big contributors to our program,” said Jason Heath, Anna athletic director and head football coach. “We’re definitely going to miss them in the coming year. It’s exciting to see them take that next step and further their playing careers as well as getting their education. … I think that’s going to be great,” Heath said of the pair heading north together and representing Anna. “It always helps when you know somebody, especially going that far away from home.”

Benedictine College competes in the Heart of America Athletic Conference and is a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). The school is a Catholic institution of about 2,000 students with a 14-to-1 student-teacher ratio.

“I’m feeling really excited, very emotional for this whole process,” Lee said. “Everybody’s been here to support me and all my decisions.” Besides the educational opportunity Benedictine provides, Lee said he particularly appreciates the school’s proximity to the Missouri River. Lee enjoys fishing and also looks forward to “how green it’s going to be in summer” in that area.

Lee said he had doubts as to how his senior season for the Coyotes would go as he dealt with a nagging ankle injury. “I didn’t know if was going to recover fully or not. But when I got in the games I didn’t feel pain so I just kept going and tried my hardest.” Though missing several early contests, Lee wound up First-Team All-District with 568 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.

Lee said he and Lewis have known each other since elementary school. “And we’re still growing together.” Lee plans to study accounting and hopes one day to become a CEO.

“It’s a real honor,” Lewis said, “because I get to go play football at a great school ranked in the Top 10 in the NAIA. They’re also ranked first in Kansas in academics, so I get the best of both worlds.”

Lewis, a Second-Team All-District guard last season, said his favorite Anna football memory was his sophomore year when the Coyotes were bi-district champions. “That was the first time in 20-odd years that that had happened,” he said. “That made me want to keep playing.”

Lewis said he’s pleased that he and Lee have more playing days ahead of them. “It’ll be great to see a familiar face and know I have the running back that was a horse for me this year right behind me again.”

Lewis plans to major in marketing, with a minor in finance.

“This is the most exciting wonderful day,” said Lee’s mother, Gwendolyn Lee. “I’m so happy and proud of him. Out of five boys, he’s the first to decide to go to college and we can’t be happier. … We scheduled a tour [of Benedictine] and went up there and looked around. We loved the instructors and their principles were great. He fell in love with it immediately. I think it’s a really good match.”

“It was a long-time coming but I’m very proud of him,” Lee’s father, William Lee, said. “We just wish him the best of luck and we’ll support him in everything that he does.”

Lewis’ father Jeff Lewis called the day “bittersweet.” “It’s tough to see him go so far away, but it’s life and you want him to experience things and get a chance to play in college. I’m very excited for him. We’ll make every game we can possibly make.”

“I’m very proud of him,” Lewis’ mom Rhonda Lewis said, “but I’m kind of sad he’ll be that far away. … Jeran started playing football when he was four, here in Anna. I’ve always said that the only football game I like to watch is when Jeran’s playing.”