BEMIDJI -- Chase Smith is continuing his athletic career at the next level, and at the NCAA Division I level to boot. It’s just maybe not in the sport Smith or his coaches expected to see him play.

The 2020 Bemidji High School graduate recently announced his commitment to join the North Dakota State wrestling team as a walk-on this fall after fielding offers to play football at other schools.

“My goal was to go D-I in one of my sports,” said Smith, who was also a standout defensive tackle on the BHS football team. “I didn’t get any D-I offers from football. And then a D-I offer came in for wrestling after wrestling season, so I hit them up and they really wanted me and I wanted that.”

As an indicator of how talented Smith was on the gridiron, he was named to the North All-Star Team at the Minnesota Football Showcase last December. Among the schools who’d taken an interest in Smith at football were Bemidji State and St. John’s, before he decided to continue his exploits on the mat at NDSU.

“We’re excited for our wrestling community, for the Bemidji community, and obviously excited for Chase,” BHS head coach Rance Bahr said. “(I’m) a little bit surprised. We kind of expected him to go somewhere and play football, but I’m really excited that he’s taking the opportunity to go wrestle at a Division I school.”

If not for an eye-catching performance at the state wrestling tournament this winter, Smith might not have garnered interest from the Bison. The Lumberjack advanced all the way to the Class 3A individual state semifinals, where he was defeated 1-0 by the eventual state champion. Smith ultimately took third in the heavyweight division, matching nine others for the program’s top individual finish since 2003.

“I think it’s because I got top three at state,” Smith said of NDSU’s interest. “Everyone underestimated me and then I just showed them.”

Smith will be the first BHS wrestler to compete in Division I since 2014 alum Kade Johnson wrestled one season for NDSU in 2014-15. The most recent Lumberjack to wrestle collegiately was 2015 graduate Brian Maas, who spent two seasons at Iowa Lakes Junior College from 2016-18.

“It means a lot,” Smith said of becoming one of the select few from Bemidji wrestling to go D-I. “And I really appreciate all my fans and supporters and family for supporting me, and getting me through to achieve my goals.”

“He made the varsity lineup partway through his sophomore year and was kind of a mainstay in the lineup his junior and senior years,” Bahr said. “He was someone that we always counted on for wins in our duals and at tournaments. He was very good with the younger wrestlers, a positive role model, always a happy kid full of fun.”

Aside from the D-I opportunity, Smith also said he gelled with the Bison coaches.

A three-year letter winner, Smith finished his BHS career with a 76-21 career record, going 40-5 in his senior season. He was also a two-time All-Mat King Conference first team selection, and was a member of three BHS wrestling All-Academic Gold Teams as recognized by the Minnesota Wrestling Coaches Association. Smith plans to major in elementary education.