By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Dayton Sealey is a Loper through and through.
Those are his words.
“I truly consider myself a Loper for life,” he said. “I love the Lopers, and everyone around me knows that.”
The Hastings native has spent the past seven years at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, earning two degrees, starring on the football field, developing lifelong relationships and preparing for a professional career in strength and conditioning.
“UNK has played such a big role in my life. I mean, I’ve been at this school longer than I’ve lived in some of my houses,” he said with a laugh. “It’s just done a lot for me. I wouldn’t be who I am without UNK.”
An all-state running back and linebacker at St. Cecilia, Sealey came to UNK to play football, following in the footsteps of his older brother Dalton.
“I was getting looked at by a good amount of NAIA schools around the area, but all of those schools wanted me for defense and Kearney was the only school that wanted me to play offense,” Sealey explained. “That was kind of the game-changer. I really wanted to play offense.”
It was a wise decision.
After redshirting in 2016, Sealey thrived in then-head coach Josh Lynn’s run-heavy offense. He gained more than 2,600 total yards and scored 22 touchdowns in his UNK career, not including the unofficial two-game season in 2020. Sealey holds the school record for rushing yards per carry in a season – 8.19 in 2019 – and ranks fifth all-time with a 6.36 career average.
The Lopers went 7-5 and won the Mineral Water Bowl in 2019, then reached the second round of the NCAA Division II Playoffs in 2021, when they finished with a 10-3 record.
Sealey called his football career a “great experience,” but that wasn’t his sole focus. He also excelled in the classroom, receiving MIAA Academic Honor Roll recognition five times. He earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise science in May 2021 and started a master’s program during his final season of football.
As a graduate assistant in the Department of Kinesiology and Sport Sciences, Sealey dove deeper into the game by studying student-athlete performance through the Physical Activity and Wellness Lab on campus.
Working alongside UNK faculty members, he utilized cutting-edge technology such as GPS trackers to collect data during practices and games that could be used to improve player preparation, safety and performance. One study focused on the physical demands for each position on the women’s soccer team – total distance covered in games, hard-running distance and sprint distance – and another looked at similar data for each position group on the football team throughout fall camp, in-season practices and games.
This information was shared with UNK coaches and trainers so they can better monitor player workloads and make adjustments to practice routines. Sealey also presented his findings during UNK Research Day and at a National Strength and Conditioning Association conference in Las Vegas.
In addition to his work with UNK Athletics, Sealey helped coordinate Loper Performance, a youth sports training and research program within the Department of Kinesiology and Sport Sciences. Available to students in elementary through high school, the program provides structured weightlifting and speed-training workouts designed to develop young athletes and reduce the risk of injury.
Off campus, Sealey completed an internship at Landow Performance in Colorado, working with football players preparing for the NFL Draft Combine. Fellow UNK graduate and former Loper football player Davis Brendel is a sports performance coach there. Sealey also spent a summer in a strength and conditioning position at IMG Academy in Florida, where former UNK faculty member Joe Eisenmann worked at the time.
“Those were both really good opportunities that taught me a lot,” said Sealey, who is certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. “I’ve been around some people who are well-regarded in this field, and those connections are just as valuable as what I’ve learned.”
Sealey graduates Friday with a master’s degree in exercise science education, but he’s not ready to leave UNK just yet. Kate Heelan, an exercise science professor and chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Sport Sciences, offered him a part-time position to remain with Loper Performance as the program director.
“Dayton is passionate about what he does and he does it well,” said Heelan, who also serves as director of the Physical Activity and Wellness Lab. “He is passionate about training young athletes to be the best they can be. He is thoughtful about his programming and wants everyone to succeed.”
“In addition to his experiences as a football player at UNK, he has completed multiple internships and a graduate assistantship under highly well-respected strength and conditioning experts,” she added. “These opportunities to learn from the best, along with his own experiences, have made him an excellent coach in this area.”
Sealey will lead Loper Performance for the next year while also running the strength and conditioning program at Kearney Catholic High School. Eventually, he’d like to land a full-time strength and conditioning position at the high school level.
“As I’ve gone through school, I’ve learned how important it is for kids to get exposed to this kind of training,” he said. “I want to make this something kids enjoy and teach them the importance of being lifelong movers.”
Entering Year 8 at UNK, the 26-year-old has one more important task to take care of. He’s marrying former women’s basketball player and current speech-language pathology graduate student Klaire Kirsch in May 2024, so they have a ceremony to plan.
Along with countless coaches, teammates, faculty members and mentors, she’s among the many amazing people he’s met during his time here.
“They’ve all played a big role in how enjoyable my experience has been,” Sealey said. “It’s just been a great time. I’d recommend being a Loper to anybody.”