Five thousand, five hundred sixty-seven miles later Ben Kruzich is ready to set anchor.
He started his high school football career in Dillon, Montana, as a prospect for Beaverhead County. Four years later he’s poised to play in his final high school football game, the 2019 Shrine Bowl in Casper, a light two-hour jaunt from his last stop of Laramie.
Kruzich played just his freshman season in Montana before moving to Palmer, Alaska. The town of about 7,000 sits just north of Anchorage. Not including windchill, Palmer spends about a month on average with below-zero temperatures. Plus, its proximity to Mantanuska and Knik Glacier make Palmer a wind trap. That means snowfall lingers for days on top of the added threat of frostbite. There are high schools who play football in that.
“Playing in Alaska was really weird,” Kruzich said. “We had to play a couple games before school started just to beat the cold.”
Kruzich made the all-conference team twice and all-state once in two seasons in Alaska. His reputation as a standout defensive end and linebacker grew and his eyes moved to the future. He wanted to play football in college but it would be too expensive to graduate high school in Alaska and then go to school in the lower 48 states. So it was time for the family to pack-up once again.
Already familiar with the Mountain West region, the Kruzich family was attracted to Laramie and its charm. Ben knew he had just one season left in high school football and if he wanted to fulfill his dream of collegiate football then he’d have to dive in.
“The move was awesome,” he said. “Everyone kind of took me in at Laramie. We became a pretty good team and we played as hard as we could.”
Kruzich finished second in defensive points in the state. He averaged 9.4 tackles per game and led Class 4A with eight sacks. Teams needed to account for him whether he was coming off the edge or crashing down into the heart of the opposing offense. He finished as a first-team all-state selection, a testament to his impact in just one season.
He thought that single season of work was also good enough to make the Shrine Bowl. He believed in his work, but on the other hand, he also knew there were a lot of talented peers across the state. Then the phone call came.
“I was jumping up and down, man,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it. I worked really hard for this, but it’s a great feeling just to get a call for it.”
Saturday’s game can go either way for him. He’s excited to play competitive football once more but this week has already affected him.
“I’ve gotten out of this what I wanted,” he said after a Thursday practice. “I wanted to meet the kids (at the Shriners Hospital) and I wanted us to come together as a team. I already got what I wanted and the game is just a game. Whatever happens, happens, I’m just excited for it.”
Afterwards comes the reality of college football. He left Alaska for a more realistic shot at playing in college. During the selection process he narrowed his focus before making his decision known. He’s going to walk on at the University of Wyoming.
Just over a full year after living at 233 feet above sea level in Alaska he’s found a home at 7,220. Having years and countless miles treading over North America, Kruzich is staying put — for once.