ST. IGNATIUS — When you think of the recent success of the St. Ignatius football team, Kellen McClure is one of the first names that comes to mind.
Now a senior for the Bulldogs, McClure was a freshman thrown into a starting quarterback role in 2019 when the Bulldogs snapped their 18-year playoff drought.
"I remember that first game, it was against Seeley where after halftime my coach at the time came up to me and said, 'You're going to go in there for the first time,'" McClure said. "And of course I was nervous but when I got in there it wasn't that bad. It was just like practice."
The Bulldogs again made the postseason in 2020 when McClure was a sophomore and full-fledged starter, and last year, they won their first playoff game in over 30 years.
Along the way, McClure was tasked with growing up fast to become one of the program's leaders.
"It was kind of challenging, still trying to find myself in high school and still just trying to fill a spot that I didn't feel like I really fit," McClure said. "But I stepped in with a lot of push from my coaches and my dad and my family saying you could really be that spot."
This year, St. Ignatius is off to a blazing 3-0 start in the 8-Man football season behind McClure and a loaded senior class which includes Bryce Umphrey, Canyon Sargent, Kenny Ness, Chance Bockman, Carmine Adams, Nic Frost and Winter Gopher.
And they're using last year's playoff loss to Fort Benton in the 8-Man quarterfinal round as motivation.
"After that Fort Benton loss, all of us juniors at the time really took it hard and we knew that it wasn't time to give up and just go back to the drawing board," McClure said. "We knew we were going to go right back home, pick up right where we started off and not take steps back, we're only going forward."
As one of the school's most decorated athletes in recent memory, he's earned college interest at the NAIA level for his work both on the field and in the offseason. He currently holds an offer to Dickinson State in North Dakota.
To achieve all of that personally, and then to see the program turn around with his teammates, has made it all worth it for the senior.
For St. Ignatius head coach Carson Oakland, McClure is a player who never shies away from the big moment.
"I couldn't be more proud of him," Oakland said. "He is a guy who has the mentality of, and I'm stealing this from Hard Knocks, he's a guy that can and a guy that will. Doesn't matter what they do, what we see, he's a guy that's going to try and give everything he's got. He's a guy that can and will and I think that describes Kellen."
McClure said that wide-eyed freshman three years ago would've never believed that this is where he'd end up.
"It means the most to see everyone, not necessarily just me, I try not to focus on myself that much, but to really help everyone get to where I want to be," McClure said. "If I get them there with me, they're going to help me be just as great as them or even better."