HELENA — The Helena Capital football team has a lot of things going for it this season but one of the best is the backfield tandem of Kadyn Craigle and Noah Braden.
For Craigle and Braden the connections run deep. Both play running back for the Bruins, in addition to starting on defense and being vital on special teams.
However, their common bond goes beyond high school football. In fact, it goes all the way back to seventh grade and small fry football, when they each played for the team representing Bob’s Valley.
“We had a really good team back then,” Craigle remembered. “We won the city championship when we were eighth-graders. We went undefeated our freshmen year of high school, so we have always had that goal as a class to get a state championship by our senior year.”
The dream almost became a reality when the two were sophomores, getting their first taste of varsity football. Capital advanced all the way to the Class AA semifinals that season, before losing to crosstown rival Helena High.
“It’s crazy that we were so close,” Craigle said. “We were just one game from where we wanted to be and we have to try and take that next step.”
A loss like that, to an archival, is hard to forget.
“That’s definitely something that still motivates us,” Braden added. “It still leaves a bad taste.”
After breaking into the lineup as sophomores, both Braden and Craigle became full-time starters in 2018. Craigle flashed at linebacker with 87 tackles and seven tackles for loss, while Braden started behind him at safety.
Now though, in addition to their duties on defense and special teams, they essentially share the role of featured back and through two games, it’s been effective, to say the least.
“They have similar styles,” Capital head coach Kyle Mihelish said. “They are both explosive, hard-nosed runners and they are extremely valuable to this team, just like all of our guys.”
So far this season, their value is apparent. Craigle has been a driving force for the offense and has gone over 100 yards rushing in each Bruins victory. Yet, Braden isn’t far behind. He reached the century mark on just 11 carries last week, while also contributing as a receiver.
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However, the small-fry connection goes beyond Craigle and Braden and extends to three starters on the offensive line, Josh Lee, Blayne Ehlke and Jake Slagel.
“I knew back when we were playing for Bob’s Valley that we were going to be good,” Craigle said. “As is it now, we have five or six guys that start that are from our eighth-grade team.”
Braden said that relationship has been important, especially when it comes to building chemistry.
“We are both pretty good friends with the offensive line,” Braden said. “I hang out with them all the time and that makes it more fun. It’s cool when you can see one of your best friends get a block or something. It just adds to it.”
Mihelish also spoke about how the group has aided the team overall.
“The offensive line and the running backs have grown up together and been on a lot of the same teams, even in small fry,” he said. “They are a good group of kids and they are a tight-knit group. You get tell the pulse of your team by the senior leadership and those guys have done a great job with that.”
On top of sharing the field for the past six years, Craigle, Braden and the rest of their small-fry teammates share a common goal, of not just winning a state title, but creating their own place in Helena Capital history.
“You always want to meet the expectations of some of the greats here,” Braden said. “Guys like Matt Miller and some of those guys. But you also have to do your own thing.”
At a school like Helena Capital, which has a long history of success, championships and great players, carving out a legacy can be tough.
But if Craigle and Braden can help lead the Bruins to their first state title since 2011, that would certainly do the trick.
“In our freshmen year, our first meeting of the year, we were aiming for that,” Craigle said of a state title. “So we have always had high expectations for our class and I think that we have a chance. We are excited to see how it all plays out.”