Dakota Kimbrough entered high school a star athlete with an infectious smile. By age 18, he had become a leader and a mentor.
Teachers and coaches say they first knew him as a person with a feisty personality and a talented football player who loved game day more than anything. But they watched him grow into a handsome young man who inspired his peers.
Kimbrough’s life was cut short last Friday when a truck in which he was riding swerved off a gravel road outside Townsend. Three other teenage occupants received minor injuries, while the vehicle rolled onto Kimbrough. He died on the scene.
The sudden death of one of the football team captains rocked the small community. The accident occurred only four hours before the school’s homecoming football game was set to be played.
On Wednesday, around 500 students, players, friends and community members gathered in the Broadwater High School gymnasium to mourn the loss of a beloved young man.
It was an emotional service, though friends and teachers found ways to smile as they remembered Kimbrough’s life.
“He was the kid who would look straight in your eye with a cocky smile,” said John O’Dell, Kimbrough’s freshman English teacher and wrestling coach. “He was kind of a pain in the butt.”
The mischievous student wasn’t afraid to poke fun at his teachers and older peers, but he was kind to everyone, said O’Dell, adding that Kimbrough admired the students he liked to tease.
“His unusual way of making senior friends was by messing with them nonstop,” football coach Travis Rauh said.
Though Kimbrough’s playful attitude never changed, he matured into a mentor to fellow students and teammates.
“He encouraged the freshmen as the seniors had encouraged him,” Rauh said. “He became one of the best players in the state.”
O’Dell told community members: “This year, all of his desires, beliefs and ambitions were coming to fruition. He was doing very well in the classroom.
“He became an unbelievable leader in our school,” he said.
Kimbrough inspired other students to work harder and to always be the best they could be, O’Dell said.
“Thanks, Dakota, for being a role model for my kids, classmates, teammates, family and the community,” he said.
Memorials to Kimbrough line the hallways inside Broadwater High School. On one wall, classmates have hung photographs and letters to their deceased friend. Kimbrough’s jersey number, 26, can be seen on car windows, lockers, posters and T-shirts. At Wednesday’s service, some students wore shirts with “Forever 26” printed on the back. A memorial also surrounds one of the goalposts on the football field.
“It’s truly amazing how this community has come together,” the Rev. Mike Dexter said.
The Rev. Dexter read a long list of communities and organizations across the state that have sent condolences to the high school.
He said in Three Forks, the school’s chief rival, students and staff wore Broadwater team colors as part of the school’s homecoming week.
“Just seeing all the people who turned out to say goodbye to him is a testament to what a wonderful man he turned out to be,” Meagher County Sheriff Joe Lopp said during the service.
Lopp, a family friend, said Kimbrough was notorious for his back flips.
“He could do back flips off of anything,” Lopp said.
The Rev. Dexter called Kimbrough “a child who still loved his superhero, Batman, a child who loved to joke and tease, a child who liked to play games, a child who became a leader among his peers.”
“What’s amazing is that someone who is 18 years old could impact people the way he did,” he said.
Jory Fisher, one of Kimbrough’s close friends, said he and Kimbrough would joke about how similar they were. But the two were also “exact opposites,” he said. Fisher would make sure Kimbrough didn’t get carried away with his playful antics, while Kimbrough inspired Fisher to work hard.
Fisher said Kimbrough had an exceptional work ethic, often passing on summertime adventures so he could stick to his weight-lifting schedule.
Above all, he was a friend who could brighten any day.
“I feel happy because I remember him,” Fisher said.
Dexter concluded the service by reading remarks written by one of Kimbrough’s brothers, Dylan. After one of Dakota’s best football games, Dylan wrote, “God decided he wanted Dakota to play on his team.
“Dakota has been drafted to the greatest team of all,” he wrote.