Bigfork junior Austin Cantrell had a rough start in school, particularly in dealing with bullying in his elementary years, but through a few adjustments and the game of football, he found a way to overcome it.
Cantrell, who started playing football in sixth grade, transferred from Bigfork Middle School to Swan River School during seventh grade to get a fresh start. It was there that he met eighth-grade teacher Todd Emslie, who mentored him and inspired him to channel his energy into football.
Although he took his eighth grade year off from football to focus on his studies and other life goals, Cantrell eagerly returned his freshman year and has been playing since.
“I didn’t play much my freshman year because I had taken a year off and I wasn’t ready,” Cantrell said. “Since then I’ve been lifting and working hard trying to prepare for the next level, which is hopefully college football.”
Ideally Cantrell would like to attend Montana Sate University and play football for the Bobcats.
“I think it would be fun, so I’ve been working hard to try to get there, but we’ll see what happens,” Cantrell said.
One thing that could greatly help him on his way, financially anyway, is winning the Rudy Award — a scholarship contest for inspirational high school football players. The grand prize is a $10,000 scholarship and two runner-ups will receive $5,000. Additionally, one fan favorite will also win a $5,000 scholarship. A panel of celebrities and sports figures judges the awards, but fan voting is also a key factor that can be accomplished on the organization’s website www.highschoolrudyawards.com. Voting requires just the click of a button and the entry of a security code to prevent computerized voting. Site visitors can vote for multiple nominees and may also vote multiple times for the same nominee.
Nominations were open to high school football players who took part in the 2010 season on any prep team in the country. That group was narrowed down to 50 earlier this month and Dec. 27 voting will close and the candidates will number just 12. Cantrell is one of the 50 nominees seeking votes in hopes of becoming a finalist. More than one million votes have already been cast for the 50 players who hail from various states across the country.
Winning the award would cap off an already rewarding season for Cantrell who was named to the All-State list, as well as first team All-Conference defensive tackle and first team All-Conference offensive guard. He was also honored as the Vikings’ defensive MVP.
Cantrell credits his hours in the weight room for his improvements this year, but mostly he points to his coaches who he said he considers his friends and family.
“I feel like my coaches really made an impact on me,” Cantrell said. “Having coaches like John Little who allow me to lift every day has made such a big difference. I’m so thankful to our coaching staff and Emslie for giving me an opportunity to be a part of the team and do all of this.”
Even though socially Cantrell is still searching for his niche, football has given him a place to work out life’s problems.
“It is just nice to be able to be in a totally different world than the social environment,” Cantrell said. “It is all football talk. It is all mental and it is all physical on the field.”
His teammates are also teaching him the importance of trust, which can be hard when you grew up being picked on for being larger than you classmates.
“Football is a team sport and you have to rely on everyone out there,” Cantrell said. “In football you have to trust each other and have to give 100 percent all of the time.”
The gridiron and the weight room have also given Cantrell a place to set goals and build confidence.
“It gives me my own thing,” Cantrell said of lifting. “It is about how much I wanted to put into it. Did I want to lift eight months out of the year or just sit around? Football is an individual sport until you get on the field and then it turns into a team sport. It’s all about how much effort you want to put in.”
Cantrell and his fellow linemen were able to realize the benefit of their hard work and numerous hours of preparation this season as they were consistently credited by their coaches and teammates for substantial improvements from previous seasons.
“This year we were able to sub out linemen and we really learned where our strengths were and how to improve on the things we needed to,” Cantrell said.
He also added that this improvements wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the Vikings’ scout team which helped the linemen “get to where they wanted to be before each game.”
Ultimately those strides in the linemen’s abilities helped lead the Vikings to a victory in the Class B State Championship game Nov. 20 — a day that Cantrell and his teammates will not soon forget.
“It was a year that made it all worth it,” Cantrell said. “It was an amazing thing. I am so proud of our team for what we accomplished.”
Although the season is over for this year, Cantrell is still staying focused on the things that help him get through this days.
“In a way football and lifting sort of relieves the things that happen during the rest of the day, he said. “If I’m in the weight room and I’m struggling to put up a lift, sometimes I focus on the frustrations of my day and it helps get that little more I need to achieve my goal.”
It is that desire to turn a bad experience from the past into a positive future that led to Cantrell being nominated for the Rudy Award and has helped him gain supporters beyond his coaches and family. The top 12 finalists for the Rudy Award will be announced Dec. 28 and the top four finalists will be revealed Jan. 18. An awards ceremony will follow Feb. 11.