Jake Kindel, Eureka.jpg (copy)

Eureka running back Jake Kindel attempts to make a man miss during the Lions' 20-6 win over Manhattan in the 2019 playoffs. Kindel committed to the Idaho football team as a walk-on earlier this month.

MISSOULA — Eureka senior Jake Kindel fulfilled his longtime dream of playing Division I football, although it means leaving the state to do so.

Kindel had yearned to play at the D-I level since he got into football, but the only scholarship offers he received came Division II University of Mary and NAIA schools Montana Tech, Montana Western, MSU-Northern and Rocky Mountain College. Montana and Montana State never showed enough interest to extend any sort of offer.

The Idaho Vandals, though, wanted Kindel as a walk-on, so he accepted the offer to play in the Big Sky Conference earlier this month after being sold on them during a recent visit to campus.

“Being a Montana boy, I always dreamed of playing for the Cats or Griz,” said Kindel, who grew up in the state as a rare fan of neither team. “Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. Idaho kept in contact with me and gave me the opportunity to play for them. I visited their campus, and it’s a beautiful place. They have fantastic players, fantastic coaches, awesome facilities. It’s definitely the right fit.”

Kindel is projected to play linebacker for Idaho, although the 6-foot, 210-pound senior is willing to play on either side of the ball or on special teams, he said, just to get an opportunity. He was a four-year starting linebacker and three-year starting fullback for Eureka, earning all-state honors each of the past three seasons and winning three state championships in four years.

“I’d say I bring football intelligence and tenacity,” said Kindel, who has a 4.0 grade-point average and is looking to major in business finance with a minor in teaching. “It’s nice knowing what’s going on, on the field and knowing what’s coming up through film study and knowing the other team’s offense.

“Linebacker has always had a special place in my heart. It’ll be interesting going to just one side of the ball. But having played both sides gives you the entire aspect of the game. And I love linebacker. I’m really excited to play for the Vandals.”

Kindel was a two-year team captain for Eureka coach Trevor Utter, a former Montana Grizzly from 1995-97. He made the defensive play calls each down as the starting middle linebacker.

Kindel collected 292 tackles in four years years with the Lions. On the offensive side, he ran for 1,564 yards and caught passes out of the backfield for 764 yards.

“His linebacker skill is based on great preparation, super-sure tackling and just having a nose for the ball,” Utter said. “Every great linebacker you have, at the end of each play when you’re picking up the pieces of who’s on the bottom of the pile, it’s your great linebacker almost every time, and that’s Jake. He has a nose for the ball.

“The film study and the prep and making sure he knows everything they’re going to do. That’s what great linebackers do. He’s a super great leader on the field. He’s a 4.0 student, so he’s very smart. He understands what’s going on for him but also understands how to get others in the right position. That’s what he was for us was a complete captain of our defense. He’s going to be that same type of player there.”

Kindel was primarily recruited by head coach Paul Petrino and assistant coach Vernon Smith. While he dreamed of playing Division I, he had to be sold on the Vandals and Moscow, Idaho.

“The welcoming factor was big,” Kindel said. “As soon as I showed up, I didn’t feel like an outsider. It felt like home, like Eureka almost. Even though it’s a way bigger town, it’s got that small-town feel to it.”

A three-sport athlete, Kindel also played basketball and competed in track and field. He was a three-year basketball starter, and his team this season won its first district tournament title since 2003.

In track and field, he ran sprints and threw the javelin. He’s 5 feet away from breaking the school’s javelin record, he said, but there’s uncertainty if spring sports will be played at all in Montana due to the ongoing spread of the coronavirus.

If Kindel’s high school career is over, he at least has big things to look ahead to at Idaho, an opportunity he said wouldn’t be possible without his family, friends and coaches.

“His strongest attribute is he’s an incredible worker,” Utter said. “He will put in the hours in the weight room, in film study and in the classroom. He’s a really diligent kid when it comes to the work that he does. That’s what makes you a next-level athlete. There’s a lot of them that don’t make it in college, but I believe he will because he has a great work ethic to go with his athleticism. That’s what separates the men from the boys.”

Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at frank.gogola@missoulian.com.

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