When a Boise State football coach told Jake Hess in January that no walk-on fullback or tight end has ever earned a scholarship at the school, the 6-foot, 230-pound Galena High School star knew that he'd found the right place.
Hess, an All-League, All-Region and All-State first-teamer at linebacker for the Grizzlies in 2007, has decided to challenge himself and walk on as a fullback for the perennial Western Athletic Conference powerhouse Broncos.
"A lot of people were asking, 'Why don't you go to Nevada?'" Hess said. "I really like Boise State - I like the tradition. The town is awesome. I can see myself at Boise."
Not that Hess was lacking for other opportunities.
According to his father Rollie Hess, a Virginia City High School grad who went on to star for the Wolf Pack basketball team (1966-70), Jake received more than 250 recruiting letters.
Hess, a two-way starter for Galena, added 680 yards rushing on 108 carries and 10 touchdowns from the backfield to complement his 52 solo tackles, eight sacks and three forced fumbles as a linebacker.
Under NCAA rules, Boise State coaches are prohibited to comment on a recruitable athlete, but Grizzlies coach Steve Struzyk said that in Hess the Broncos will get both a versatile athlete and a "hell of a person in general."
"As a walk-on, they're getting a real steal," said Struzyk, who guided Hess and the Grizzlies to their first-ever regional championship in 2006. "Whether it's at fullback, linebacker - whatever - he'll make a quick impact. He'll do anything a coach asks."
And that willingness is not limited to football coaches.
Hess was one of the leaders for the Galena baseball team this year - he hit better than .440 - and was a member of the school's High Desert League championship basketball team last season as well, where he stepped in to help challenge 6-foot-8 power forward Luke Babbitt in practice.
"It was a good experience for me," Hess said of his hoops season. "Luke and I grew up together since the first grade. He told me he'd play baseball if I played basketball. He was too busy with basketball to come out, but it's all good. It kept me in shape."
It also may have served to increase Hess' chances to eventually break through as a scholarship athlete. Already a good blocker and a punishing runner - he ran for more than 200 yards and scored three touchdowns in a playoff game against Reno last season - Hess has exceptional hand-eye coordination and a soft set of hands.
He caught 11 passes for 91 yards and one touchdown and this season for the Grizzlies' baseball team, Hess honed his rexflexes at the hot corner.
"He has great hands," Struzyk said. "Last year he was getting the ball more. Ask him to do it, he'll do it - block, rush, catch the ball out of the backfield. He's one of those rare kids that can adapt to any position."
He's also a naturally large kid, something that served to prevent him from playing Pop Warner. According to Struzyk, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"He's been injury-free. He doesn't have all those miles on the tires like a lot of guys do who have been playing football since the third grade," Struzyk said.
Struzyk also said that many people get the wrong impression when they hear the term "walk-on." Contrary to popular opinion, a walk-on player has to be invited.
"This isn't just show up and put your name on a list and come out," Struzyk said. "Boise did a good job of making him feel wanted. They're going to get some type of kid. He's going to work his butt off. This is a perfect fit, really. They offered this kid a chance to come out and prove himself."
Hess, who will room with McQueen linebacker Alex LaVoy, said there's another challenge he's looking forward to.
"One of the biggest things is becoming a man and going out by myself," he said. "I'm going to redshirt and then hopefully the next year I'll get a little bit of playing time on special teams and play a little in my redshirt freshman year. Then hopefully I can carry on the Boise State tradition."
And that tradition, for those living in a vacuum, is a winning one.