GOODING — On Wednesday morning, a large crowd gathered at Gooding High School to celebrate four Senator seniors.

Linemen Kolton Adkinson and Andrew Carter both inked their letters of intent to play football for NAIA schools. Linebackers Sam Funkhouser and Ruger Jennings had already signed with Idaho State University in December, but Gooding head football coach Cameron Andersen used Wednesday — college football’s National Signing Day — to honor all four college-bound players.

“It’s four really good football players,” Andersen told the Times-News after the ceremony. “It’s tough to see them go, but I’m really relieved and happy to see the process done.”

PAT SUTPHIN, TIMES-NEWS
Gooding head football coach Cameron Andersen talks to the crowd before four of his players sign their letters of intent Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018, during National Signing Day at Gooding High School in Gooding.

Sam Funkhouser and Ruger Jennings, Idaho State

Funkhouser and Jennings became best friends in seventh grade. As they got deeper into their Gooding careers, they planned to play college football together.

That dream was realized in December, when the duo signed their letters of intent during the early singing period. Their scholarships from ISU will cover tuition, they said.

“When I got this job back in April, I said we’re gonna build Idaho State with state of Idaho players,” ISU head coach Rob Phenicie told the Times-News over the phone on Wednesday. “There are a ton of good football players in small towns across the state, and these two are the epitome of that.”

Both received offers in the spring of 2017, they said, and Jennings planned to join the Bengals almost immediately. Funkhouser wasn’t quite as decisive, with offers from Montana State and Weber State. In October, he feared he’d lost his scholarship.

On Oct. 5, Funkhouser suffered a knee injury that forced him to miss the rest of the season.

“I thought for sure ISU was definitely off the list and I would have to go somewhere else,” Funkhouser said Wednesday. “ISU, Montana State, Weber State, I thought all those disappeared right then.”

But Phenicie and ISU linebackers coach Roger Cooper said they wouldn’t revoke their offer. At worst, Funkhouser said, he would receive a grey shirt, which delays enrollment and gives an athlete extra eligibility.

“I’m thankful for ISU and coach Phenicie for not giving up on me,” Funkhouser said. “Now, I get to play Division I football with my best friend.”

Funkhouser said his injured knee is about 70 percent right now. The rehab process has been difficult, especially when he watched his Senators lose to Snake River in the 3A state semifinals, but he’s confident he’ll be healthy when next football season arrives.

“I’m really looking forward to coming back, showing people I’m not done,” Funkhouser said. “This isn’t going to define me. I’m just gonna work hard.”

PAT SUTPHIN, TIMES-NEWS
Gooding senior Ruger Jennings shows his letter of intent for Idaho State University on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018, during National Signing Day at Gooding High School in Gooding. Jennings and senior teammate Sam Funkhouser (seated, clapping) both signed with the Bengals in Decemeber.

Jennings jokingly called himself “undersized and slow” and said he might move to safety at ISU. If he has any physical deficiencies, they didn’t show during his senior season.

Jennings was named the 2017 Sawtooth Central Idaho Conference defensive player of the year, and he earned first-team all-Idaho honors. He, like Funkhouser, consistently delivered devastating hits, and Cameron Andersen praised his mind.

“He’s probably the most football-intelligent player I’ve ever coached,” Andersen said. “I have zero doubts that once his size catches up to his brain, he’s gonna be an All-American at ISU.”

Jennings grew up wanting to play for Montana State because of his affinity for the state. But he was content to dismiss the Bobcats when ISU gave him an offer last year.

“It’ll be fun to go up there and beat them,” Jennings said of Montana State.

He and Funkhouser briefly met Phenicie at an ISU football camp as sophomores, two years before he became head coach. They did more than enough to stay on his radar.

“Sometimes you just get feel for someone,” Phenicie said. “I was like, ‘Those are a couple of dudes right there.’”

Funkhouser wasn’t verbally committed to ISU until his knee blew out, but the Bengals were his top choice before then. Their commitment to him after the injury turned his preference into a signature.

“He says he wants to build a wall around Idaho, recruit Idaho,” Funkhouser said of Phenicie. “I really fell in love with that. He’s a good guy, he’s a great coach, and I really look forward to working with him and Cooper.”

Andrew Carter, Carroll

Carter said he nearly received a full-ride scholarship from Carroll College, and he’s headed to Helena, Mont., with plans to play center, one of the positions he manned at Gooding.

He received offers from other Frontier Conference schools, including Eastern Oregon, Montana Western, Montana Tech and College of Idaho, he said. But Carroll was not a hard choice.

“I like the coaches,” Carter said. “They wanted me to be a four-year starter for them.”

Carter was a star on the offensive and defensive lines for the Senators in 2017, with first-team selections on the all-SCIC and all-Idaho teams.

“Andrew’s just a mammoth monster,” Cameron Andersen said. “His calves are like 30-inch waists.”

Unlike Funkhouser and Jennings, Carter didn’t seal his college decision months ago. He committed a couple weeks ago, and Wednesday marked the official signing.

“I’m glad it’s over,” he said. “My dream since I was a little kid was to go to college.”

Kolton Adkinson, Montana Western

Adkinson said he began talking with Montana Western about a year ago. On Wednesday, in front of a full auditorium of Gooding students and faculty, he signed his letter of intent.

“It’s a great feeling,” he said, “seeing everyone in the crowd and seeing everyone that’s watched you over the last few years.”

Adkinson said he received a partial scholarship. He plans to redshirt when he gets to Dillon, Mont., in the fall, and he will likely play offensive guard. He was impressed with Montana Western’s academics, and he plans to major in wildlife ecology.

He was a first-team all-SCIC offensive lineman in 2017 after a versatile career. Cameron Andersen said Adkinson played all three spots on the offensive line over the last three seasons.

“Kolton’s just super dynamic. He’s a football player,” Andersen said. “We just never worried because he was so football savvy.”

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