NOTE: This story appears in the January issue of the Heart River Voice, of which I am a contributing sports feature writer.
Kaden Kuntz was only 10 years old when when he began to understand he had the gift of speed.
He had qualified for the Hershey National Junior Olympic Championships in two events, the 50 and 100 meters. He chose to run the 50 meters and became national runner-up.
The Dickinson Trinity High School senior said that was “the first time I realized I had some speed behind me.”
Kuntz hasn’t slowed down since.
Today, he can make a legitimate claim to being the fastest high school athlete in North Dakota.
He’s the reigning Class B state champion in the 100 and 200 meters — last spring, he clocked the state’s fastest 100 time in three years — and also won the long jump title. He was the catalyst for the Trinity boys winning their first track and field state championship since 2006, and figures to put them in the title hunt again this spring.
“He’s probably one of the best track athletes we’ve had in a long time,” Trinity track and field head coach Craig Kovash said.
Not only that, Kuntz’s speed and abilities on the football field helped him earn him Class A senior athlete of the year honors as he helped the Titans to the state semifinals. Just before Christmas, he signed to play college football for North Dakota State University.
Along with his athletic success, Kuntz’s coaches said he’s a standout in the classroom and has embraced a sense of leadership during his senior year.
“Not just his athleticism, but his leadership skills for setting an example for all those kids around him,” Trinity head football coach John Odermann said. “I can’t say how proud of I am of the young man he’s become and the example he sets for the underclassmen.”
Committing to NDSU
Kuntz’s combination of speed, agility and shiftiness caught the eye of NDSU football coaches early in his career.
He’d attended their camps since he was a freshman. Finally, last July, the Bison offered him a scholarship. He signed his national letter of intent to play for the six-time Football Championship Subdivision champions on December 19.
Because Kuntz only stands 5-foot-9, 160 pounds, he is projected to redshirt his freshman season for the Bison as he transitions into a slot receiver and return specialist. Throughout his high school career, Kuntz spent some time at receiver and returned kicks for the Titans, though he was primarily a running back in his breakout senior season and during a junior season that was shortened by a Medial Collateral Ligament tear in his knee.
“They say I’m perfect for the slot,” Kuntz said. “I’m pretty comfortable at the slot position.”
Odermann said Kuntz has an innate ability to switch speeds while carrying the football.
He said it was common for Trinity’s assistant coaches who called offensive plays from the booth during games to know when Kuntz would make his move toward a big yardage gain before Odermann could ever see it happening at field level.
“He can go from first to fourth gear at the drop of a hat,” Odermann said. “He’s got good lateral movement. But when he puts his foot in the dirt and gets going, he can get to full speed in a couple steps.”
Kuntz’s time of 10.99 seconds to win the 100-meter state title was just eight-hundredths of a second shy of setting a Class B record. His football field quickness, however, translated into piles of yards and touchdowns for the Titans.
In his senior season, he amassed 1,428 all-purpose yards and 20 total touchdowns. He rushed for 906 yards and 15 touchdowns while averaging 9 yards per carry. He had 353 yards receiving and three touchdowns on just 21 receptions, and had two kick returns for touchdowns.
In his career, he compiled 4,025 all-purpose yards and 45 offensive and special teams touchdowns. On defense, he was a lockdown defensive back and ended his career with 11 interceptions and two defensive touchdowns.
While Kuntz’s football career didn’t end with the state championship his team was eyeing, Kuntz said he’s proud of what he accomplished.
“I left it all out on the field every play,” he said.
More than an athlete
While Kuntz generally plays a starring role in athletics, he stepped out of his “comfort zone” when he decided to join the drama club as a junior.
There, Kuntz ended up playing secondary character roles in “Shrek” as a junior and, more recently, in “The Music Man” as a senior. It was a far cry from his game-changing plays on the football field and title-winning runs on the track. But it has been something he said he thoroughly enjoys.
“It was a nice switchup,” Kuntz said. “Growing up, it was all sports, sports, sports. It’s something I hadn’t really done before. I didn’t know what to expect, whether I’d like it or not like it. All the kids were very welcoming and made us feel right at home.”
Odermann, who similarly branched out from the football field and onto the drama stage in high school, said he was proud to see Kuntz and other football players take a chance at participating in the fine arts extracurricular activities Trinity offers.
“It’s quickly becoming a highlight of my year to take a picture with all the football players who are in the drama productions,” Odermann said. “I don’t know if (Kuntz) really understands how big of an impact he has on the underclassmen who see him on stage doing that stuff.”
Odermann and Kovash each said Kuntz has always been modest about his athletic success, which they believe is why he has grown to also be respected as a student leader.
“I like the way he handles himself,” Kovash said. “He’s always been very humble, with the amount of success he’s had. Some kids don’t handle themselves very well, but he is really level-headed. You’d never know it by watching him.”
Kuntz said he’s uncertain of the career path he’ll choose in college. He has toyed with going into chemistry, business and pre-med, but is a long way from making a decision. Odermann and Kovash both said they believe Kuntz will succeed in whatever he chooses to do when his athletic career is over.
“That’s really all we can ask that these kids we help guide throughout their high school years go on to be good parents, good fathers, good employees,” Odermann said. “I think Kaden is well on his way.”
Kuntz will graduate alongside his twin sister, Masy, in May. She has also been a standout for Trinity in track and field, as well as on the volleyball and basketball courts.
The day before graduation, barring any unforeseen injuries, the siblings will wrap up their impressive athletic careers at the state track meet.
“I don’t think it’s really hit me fully yet that this is my senior year of high school,” Kuntz said. “I’m kind of taking it all in and enjoying every minute of it. I’m not taking anything for granted this year. I can’t come back next year and do anything over. I’m just trying to put effort into everything I do.”
Monke is the former editor and sports editor of The Dickinson Press. He has won multiple state and national awards for his writing and editing. If there’s a story on area prep or collegiate athletes you’d like him to pursue, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet him at monkebusiness.