For Montana offensive lineman Daniel Kistler Jr., his football career has been one of adversity and obstacles. Thanks to a strong work ethic and support system he’s overcome all problems and is on the doorstep of the NFL.
Kistler grew up in Seattle, Washington with three older sisters. Sports were a big part of his family growing up as they attended many games and events. One of his sisters was even a high school athlete. For Kistler, however, he first ran into adversity in his football journey in his pop warner years.
“I was too big to play football until the ninth grade,” Kistler told me in a phone interview. “Big” may be an understatement. As an eighth grader, Kistler stood tall at 6-foot-4 and weighed a whopping 270 pounds. When he got to O’Dea High School, a prestigious school with a winning football tradition, he made his presence known. He was a three-year letterman and was an all-league pick as a junior and senior.
Following his junior year and prior to his senior year, Kistler received attention from many of the schools in the Big 10 Conference. “I took unofficial visits to Ohio State and Purdue,” Kistler said. “I really wanted to go to Ohio State. It was my dream to play for the Buckeyes.”
Unfortunately, injuries plagued his senior high school season and Kistler lost any and all interest from the Big 10. He went from being one of the state’s most highly recruited offensive linemen to a 6-foot-4 300-plus pound mean machine with a bleak future in football.
As Kistler visited schools in an effort to salvage his college football career he was told on numerous occasions that he wouldn’t be any good. The naysayers were out in full force and it came from nearly all corners. Coaches didn’t return his phone calls and the ones that did told him he wasn’t good enough.
Instead of graduating from O’Dea and heading to Columbus or another Big 10 school, Kistler took his high school diploma, enrolled in classes at a community college, and began working as a janitor. For six months he worked that job and continued to reach out to, and get rejected by, college football coaches.
“After a while, it really starts to wear down on you. I started to believe them and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue my career. Then my mentor, Steve [Eronemo], gave me a pep talk and my whole attitude changed,” said Kistler.
Eronemo and Kistler got connected when Kistler was a young boy. A friend of his father, Eronemo was involved in the football scene in Washington. He became Kistler’s mentor and has stuck with him throughout the entire process. Kistler credits much of his success to the guidance he has received from him.
In 2010, Kistler finally got a break when the coaches at the University of Montana offered him a spot on the football team playing offensive line, and he never looked back. He was able to grow as a player and mentioned that he learned a lot from his coaches, Bob Beers and Scott Gragg.
As a true freshman in 2010, he played in nine games and started two at left guard. The following season, he started all 14 games for the Grizzlies at right guard and was a second-team All-Big Sky selection. He moved to right tackle his junior and senior seasons and was a first team All-Big Sky selection both years.
When you ask Kistler about what got him to this point, the answer is simple. “My support group. I’m a family man. I’ve got a great family and a wonderful girlfriend. My grandma passed away right after I graduated high school, so I write her initials on my arm every game because I know she’s looking down on me,” said Kistler.
Every road to the NFL is different and comes with its own twists and turns. For Danny Kistler, he’s gone from mopping the floors at his old grade school to wiping off the bottom of his shoes on the welcome mat at the door step of the National Football League.