MISSOULA — Football fans were well aware of Jake Rendina's talent on the gridiron coming into this season. After all, Rendina started as a sophomore in 2019 for Kalispell Glacier's varsity team all season.
But on Thursday, the Wolfpack junior had the type of breakout performance that puts players at the forefront of discussions when breaking down the state's top players.
And if Rendina wasn't there already, he is now.
Rendina ran for seven touchdowns and 273 yards on 34 carries against Missoula Hellgate as Glacier won in a 54-38 shootout. While everyone else wore down from the game, Rendina did the opposite. As Hellgate got within two points with 8:32 left in the fourth quarter, Rendina seemed to hit another gear with two long touchdown runs to put the game away.
Rendina was humble in victory by crediting those around him, but his head coach said he deserves all of the accolades that come with her performance.
"Obviously he is such a load that you can't take him square. You've got to go down and cut legs. Well, he started to run more patient and as those (defensive backs) were coming up and trying to go low, he was just starting to jump cut them and stiff arm them," Glacier coach Grady Bennett said about Rendina's performance late in the game. "I mean, it was a phenomenal in-game adjustment. I know he's going to give credit to our (offensive) line, which he has to, but in the open field he was amazing.
"For a bull like him, what he did in the open field (Thursday) was pretty special."
Rendina’s performance put him atop the Class AA in rushing touchdowns with 18 through four games, double his scoring total from last season. He also has 764 rushing yards, not far from the 1,048 yards he racked up his sophomore season in nine games.
But Rendina wanted the focus to be on his offensive line, without which he said his achievements aren’t possible.
"I got to give it all to my line. I'll say it again, we may not be the biggest, but we are the toughest," Rendina said. "We had to back up our defense. They got us out of some tough stuff, so we had to give it back to them and get through some tough stuff, too.
"I don't think we were relying on me as much as you think. We were more relying on our (offensive) line, because they win us the games."
Even Hellgate coach Mick Morris had to tip his cap to the junior.
"You know what's going to happen, you just can't stop him," Morris said. "All great players like him get stronger as the game goes on. So you might be able to stop him in the first and second quarter, but every game you watch that kid, he gets stronger as the game goes on. He's special."
"We just like to tough through," Rendina added. "We hit the weight room hard and I think we win it in the weight room, we win it in the fourth (quarter)."
Whether it be blocking for quarterback JT Allen or running the ball, Rendina’s focus this season is getting the Wolfpack back on track, and they appear well on their way with the 4-0 start.
"We had a down year last year and we just wanted to come back and give it all we got," Rendina said.
"The thing about Jake Rendina is he is a true competitor," Bennett added. "He's going to play hard every single play, whether he's getting the ball, whether he's having to block, whether he's pass protecting, he's going to go at it with all of the ferocity that he has. At times there was some big plays where he had to lead block for JT getting some big fourth-down conversions, third-down conversions down in the red zone and he'll do it with all of his might, man. It doesn't matter what we ask him to do, he's going to do it."