Jake Rendina has been playing football since he could walk. And he knows that’s a cliché claim to make.
“There’s this picture of me just learning how to walk with this plastic helmet on my head,” he said. “So I’ve been involved with the sport since you could get involved with it. I’ve been in it for life.”
According to his father Kevin, he actually started playing around the age of 5, when Kevin began coaching his flag football team, along with many of Jake’s friends who are now his senior teammates at Glacier High School.
“I can tell you that he loved it from day one,” Kevin said. “He loved the competitiveness of it, he loved the team spirit of it and he still does.”
Jake started on the Wolfpack’s varsity team as a small-statured (by Rendina standards) freshman in 2018.
“The first time he was put in the varsity game, it was kickoff or a kick return, his mother and I were in the stands just swallowing our hearts that he wouldn’t be hurt,” Kevin said. “The size of those kids when he was a freshman … it certainly propelled him to put on some weight.”
Three years later, Jake’s done that and more. The 6-foot-tall senior weighs 230 pounds and is the strongest 17-year-old (and fourth overall) in the country after his win at the USA Powerlifting High School Nationals this summer.
In addition to strength, his ability to read opponents, snake between linemen, occasionally strong-arming some of them out of the way, and juke his way into the end zone every Friday night have made him a crowd and commentator favorite across all of Class AA.
“What can you say about Jake Rendina that hasn’t already been said?” Flathead Valley sportscaster Anthony Nachreiner, who still hosts a podcast focused on Class AA football, said. “You just do not see backs like him in AA football. He’s just that good and that tough to stop.”
Last season, Jake had one of the best nights of his high school career statistically speaking. He wracked up 276 rushing yards and seven touchdowns against Hellgate, the third most touchdowns by an individual in Montana history. In the same game, Jake had a mean pass block that popped a Knight defensive end flat on his back — the video of the play was viewed 4,000 times on Twitter.
“That was one of my most fun memories so far,” Jake said, adding that he didn’t know how many touchdowns he had scored until someone pointed it out to him late in the fourth quarter. “In the last seconds we were in victory formation and my center, right before he snapped the ball, it was dead silent and he asked, ‘Well, how’s your guys’ night going?’”
“The whole Hellgate team burst out laughing and he snaps the ball, we end the game and we all just burst out laughing,” Jake continued. “It was just the funniest thing ever, especially after we played such a hard-fought game. Everyone on both sides was just enjoying being there.”
As a junior, Jake’s stats were historic. He accounted for 37% of all Glacier’s offensive yardage and 55% of all the team’s points.
Glacier Coach Grady Bennett had been aware of Jake as an athlete since he was in elementary school, and was excited to see him develop throughout high school, not just as a critical part of the Wolfpack’s offense but as a key team leader.
“I really challenged him to find his voice this year,” Bennett said. “Watching him develop that, and grow in the understanding that it’s meaningful when you talk to the younger guys, or challenge the team to get better.”
It’s a role Jake’s been happy to embrace.
“I tell everyone that here at Glacier Wolfpack, nobody’s better than anybody else. Just because I have good stats doesn’t mean I’m better than anyone as a person,” Jake said. “If anybody needs anything, whether in football, or with their family or in life, they can reach out and I’ll be there for them.”
Jake has received six offers to play college football so far, including in state and from all three military academies, cementing the next phase of his life to continue revolving around the game he loves.
As a senior in the midst of the football season, Jake’s life is busy. Between classes, practices, games, family time, hunting, fishing and oodles of homework, there’s not a lot of time to relax.
There is a moment, however, right before a football game starts when Jake finds some respite, perhaps an odd time to achieve serenity.
On Friday nights, while the national anthem is playing over a stadium’s loudspeakers, Jake stands shoulder to shoulder with his Wolfpack teammates and just breathes.
“I’ll take a big deep breath and just take in all the atmosphere,” he said. “I’ll look at the flags flying in the student sections and I think it helps me realize that it’s all in the moment and you have to soak that in, no matter what kind of moment it is.”
Jake tries to relay that advice to younger players, and anyone in his orbit who will listen for a moment.
“Drink your protein shakes, eat your breakfast, take care of your body, because you only have one,” he said. “But ultimately, enjoy life. Smile a lot, give good hugs, and definitely cherish each moment.”
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