BIG HORN — Kade Eisele used to get sick before football games as a freshman and sophomore. The nerves and fear of making a mistake would overwhelm the Big Horn High School player leading up to kickoff.
Once he stepped foot on the field, though, Eisele played fearlessly. That mindset helped him become one of the best high school players in Wyoming for the powerhouse Rams program that won a state championship in 2016, finished runner-up last season and is ranked first in 1A this year.
Big Horn has demolished its opponents through the first four weeks of the season, outscoring teams 190-21. Eisele, an All-State player in 2016 and 2017, is a huge part of the team’s dominance. He leads 1A in rushing yards and touchdowns and also is first on the team in defensive points from his linebacker position.
Eisele and the Rams will have their hands full Friday evening when they make the long trek to Pine Bluffs. The second-ranked Hornets defeated Big Horn in last season’s state championship game, and Eisele has been itching to get another shot at them.
“I’ll love every minute driving over there,” Eisele said. “It’s going to be worth it.”
Over the past three years, Eisele has evolved from an anxious, undersized freshman into a confident senior due to maturation, preparation and love for football.
As a kid, Eisele attended every Big Horn home football game, often playing tackle football with friends in the grass, envisioning himself eventually playing under the Friday night lights.
He grew up playing all types of sports, but after getting a taste of high school football as a freshman, Eisele gravitated toward the gridiron.
“There’s a whole different level of competitiveness,” Eisele said. “There’s just so much more to the game that you didn’t quite fully know yet. It becomes a lot more complex, and that just makes it so much more fun.”
After breaking his thumb in the third game of his freshman season, Eisele received his first career start at linebacker in Week 6 against Burns. Wearing a club to protect the injured digit, Eisele played one of the best defensive games of his career.
“Once I finally got thrown in the fire, it was really exciting,” Eisele said.
Similarly, Michael McGuire, BHHS head coach from 2012-17 and current offensive coordinator at Dickinson State University in South Dakota, remembered a game two weeks later against then-undefeated Wheatland when Eisele helped lead the Rams to an upset road victory.
“He was starting at inside linebacker at 135 pounds and just stuck his nose in there every opportunity he got and made tackles against backs that were a lot bigger than him,” McGuire said. “That’s when we knew we had something pretty special.”
The Rams lost in the playoff quarterfinals that year but came back the following season to win a state title. As a sophomore, Eisele scored a touchdown in the championship, started every game on defense and was named an All-State linebacker.
Big Horn head coach Kirk McLaughlin said Eisele excels on defense because of his instincts and tenacity.
“He knows where the ball’s going to be, he doesn’t spend any time with the blockers,” McLaughlin said. “He’s willing to stick his head through there and he’s a great tackler … He’s fearless. He’s going to go in there and get the job done, regardless of what’s around him.”
Lineman Jaxon Parker also marveled at what Eisele can do defensively.
“For someone his size, it’s pretty incredible how he flies and gets to the ball,” Parker said.
Eisele had already proven himself more than capable at linebacker in his first two years, but his coming out party occurred last season. As a junior, he led 1A with 1,768 yards rushing and 28 total touchdowns. Defensively, Eisele paced Big Horn in tackles and tallied three interceptions. He also converted 22 of 31 extra points, made a field goal and punted 17 times for a 34.1-yard net average.
He was named All-State, received the 1A Defensive Player of the Year award and was part of the Wyoming Super 25 team.
Big Horn lineman Seth Mullinax, who was also named to the Super 25 team last season, had high praise for Eisele’s field awareness.
“I don’t know what he can see that other people can’t see,” Mullinax said. “He’s the best player I’ve ever played with or against.”
McGuire also complimented Eisele’s vision with the ball.
“He sees where the seam is and he does a really nice job of setting up defenders and for a guy his size, he really battles and runs hard,” McGuire said. “He’s got a lot of traits that all the really good running backs have.”
However, Eisele’s exceptional junior season ended on a sour note. Eisele injured his hip against Cokeville in last season’s semifinal playoff game and could barely walk in the following days. He played nearly all of the snaps at linebacker in the state championship the next week but only had three carries on offense because he couldn’t lift or push off with the injured leg.
“It’s pretty hard sitting on the sidelines in the biggest game of the season knowing that you cannot do a single thing to help your team,” Eisele said.
That memory motivated Eisele for his senior season, where he has tallied at least 100 yards rushing and two touchdowns in every game so far.
Eisele credited his offensive line — with whom he eats breakfast every Friday during the season, usually at the Silver Spur Cafe — with helping him succeed out of the backfield.
“When you have to make one guy miss and it’s a safety or a corner, it makes your job a heck of a lot easier,” Eisele said.
He also learned vision and lateral quickness from former Big Horn star running back Colton Williams, Wyoming’s 2016 Offensive Player of the Year. Defensively, Eisele said former Big Horn linebacker Nolan McCafferty — a Super 25 selection in 2015 and 2016 — helped with his work ethic.
Eisele’s knowledge and toughness have also carried over to Big Horn’s other talented skill players. Backfield mate Will Pelissier said he has learned from observing Eisele’s array of moves to shed off potential tacklers.
“He always has a chip on his shoulder,” Pelissier said. “He’s kind of perfected the jump cut. After watching him for the past three years, it’s helped me quite a bit.”
Eisele is considering playing college football next year but is not completely certain he will. Even if he doesn’t compete at the next level, Eisele likely has many more important games to play over the next six weeks.
Still, his time left in the season with teammates like Mullinax, Parker and Pelissier is finite, something Eisele appreciates.
“There’s no better feeling than breaking right before a game,” Eisele said. “It’s hard to simulate that feeling and you’re never going to get it back.”
Eisele used to get physically ill before games. Now, as a senior and one of the best high school players in the state, he makes opposing players queasy.