JOHNSTON — During his time at Strom Thurmond High School, safety Demetrius Leysath has garnered a reputation as a ferocious hitter. On Wednesday, he confirmed plans to further that reputation at Lenoir-Ryhne University.

Rebels head coach Lee Sawyer said Leysath first caught his attention as a threat on the defensive side of the ball when Leysath was in middle school.

“His eighth-grade year, I went to watch one of our middle schools play Saluda. ... I saw this safety just nail the running back short of the first down,” Sawyer said, noting the tackle came at a crucial point of the game. “He kind of jumped out and grabbed me way back then.”

Since, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound defensive back has had the same impact opposing offensive players. This season, the All-Aiken Standard second-team selection accounted for 69 tackles to go with a team-best five forced fumbles and 15 passes broken up.

Leysath, who owns a 4.11 GPA in the classroom, said he’ll be pursuing a sports management degree at the school in Hickory, N.C., and that he chose Lenoir-Rhyne over North Greenville for several reasons.

“I think they have great academics, they have a good football program and I think it’ll be a perfect fit for me,” he said. “I just like the overall community of it; I think it’s a family-oriented program.”

Leysath will join a squad coming off a successful season. The Bears finished No. 20 with a 9-3 record overall and 6-1 mark in conference as South Atlantic Conference champions. They advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament.

In Leysath – known as “Sandman” for his ability to deliver jarring hits – Sawyer said the Bears and head coach Mike Houston are getting a player with a “physical ability to make contact” that has been evident for some time now.

“For me, in my opininion, kind of like he was for us – an extra linebacker in the secondary,” Sawyer said, adding that Leysath is “as physical a player as we’ve ever had here since I’ve been here.”

Leysath said that he’s learned several lessons on and off the field as a Rebel. He noted that he’s looking forward to developing many of those same aspects of his life at the college level.

“Basically, becoming a better man, athlete, student, and learning how things work in life and how to deal with them in life as I get older,” he said. “And I think Strom Thurmond football, not only has it helped me in football, but it helped me becoming a better man in life.”

Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.