When things aren’t going my way and it’s an especially rough day, sometimes it helps to hit rewind.
My barometer for hard times was established back in my late teens as an employee at the Estherville (Iowa) egg packaging plant. I hear they’re hiring, in case you’re interested.
You know that sweaty scene in “Cool Hand Luke” when Paul Newman and his chums are out working on dusty roads in Florida? Take those conditions, plus heavy lifting, plus stomach-turning situations when you’re taking maggot-filled eggs off the line, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for keeping me in college.
Anyone for an omelet?
Ever since then I’ve had a deep appreciation for anyone who navigates a river of dung to attain his goals. Guys like former Griz football star and current St. Louis Ram Chase Reynolds, who spent his college summers supporting his family on a road crew. Or my favorite sleeper for this year’s NFL Draft, ex-Griz offensive tackle Daniel Kistler Jr.
Kistler fell off the college football radar after injuries in high school, so he opted to attend junior college and work as a janitor at his old grade school. Mopping floors has a way of grounding a guy real quick.
But here’s the thing: Those six months spent cleaning up after kids might just have been the best thing that happened to Kistler the football player. From that point on, every day spent on a gridiron has been a privilege. A gift, you might even say.
Kistler rewarded the Grizzlies’ 2010 scholarship offer with a stellar career that included All-American honors. Now he’s hoping to make a living playing his favorite game, still packing the same attitude he toted as a janitor.
“I’ve flown under the radar most of my life,” the 22-year-old Seattle native said. “That’s fine with me. That drives me.
“How it all goes down, you don’t know. Things don’t just happen in life. I’m just fortunate to be in a situation to improve and a lot of it is how you respond to the bad days.”
Kistler was on hand along with some of his ex-Montana teammates for Tuesday’s pro day in Missoula. It’s sort of like dressing out for middle school gym class, only NFL scouts watch and it’s real serious.
“A lot of people ask me, ‘Well what are you going to get on the bench (press) and the 40?’ ” he offered. “I’m just looking forward to getting the opportunity to get on the gridiron against that competition and earn my stripes there.
“That’s where I will earn it, not here in my underwear. I’m a gamer. I come to practice with my hard hat. I don’t look good in my underwear. I’ll leave that for the smaller guys and guys more buff than I am. I take pride in what I do on the field.”
Even after all the honors Kistler garnered as a Griz, he was made to feel like a backup when he was invited to participate in the East-West Shrine Game two months ago in Florida. Daniel responded by rolling up his sleeves.
“Being from Montana, a lot of people looked down on me when I got there,” he recalled. “I mean, the first day there I was third string.
“I didn’t really know where I was going to fit in. But after the first practice they knew I was there to play and wasn’t messing around and I ended up starting.”
Where Kistler’s grid career goes from here is anybody’s guess. He has tried to better himself by working with his uncle, former NFL player Faipea Avaava, in Seattle. He spent some time in Michigan working on his agility with the help of jujitsu training.
Kistler may get drafted in May. Should he slip through the cracks, he’s still a good bet to be invited to an NFL camp.
That’s where he plans to mop up with his blue-collar mentality.
“A lot of this process, it’s a lot of ... the scouts see how you respond to different things,” Kistler offered. “There were a lot of psychological tests at the Shrine Game.
“Even at pro day they want to see how you react to different things. How do you react when you do something bad? How do you react when you do something good? They want to see that you’re even keel. That’s what I am. I’ll take a punch in the face and give it right back. That’s what I’ve done my whole career.”
With an iron jaw and Montana work ethic, the 6-foot-7, 320-pound Kistler seems destined for success. Mainly because he knows how to get there – even if life hands him a bucket and mop.