Bonneville High School seniors Willie Nelson and Kai Howell have been good friends for much of their lives.
It was only fitting that they decided to celebrate the next step in their athletic and academic careers together Wednesday.
Before teammates, classmates, coaches, administrators, friends and family members in Bonneville’s media center, the duo signed their national letters of intent Wednesday afternoon. Nelson is headed to the College of Idaho for football while Howell will play baseball at Walla Walla Community College.
“It’s always been the plan,” Howell said of signing together.
“Me and Kai have been buddies since we were sixth graders,” Nelson added. “We’ve played sports together all our lives. It’s just great to sign with your best friend and know you’ve put in the work together.”
Howell and Nelson are teammates in Bonneville baseball and the Idaho Falls Bandits. The two shared in Bonneville’s 4A state championship last May before spending the summer playing for the Bandits, Idaho Falls’ Double-A American Legion baseball team coached by Bonneville head coach Ryan Alexander and consisting of players from multiple District 6 schools. Howell credited playing with the Bandits, who ended last summer with an overall record of 61-6-1 by becoming Idaho’s first team to win the American Legion World Series, for prompting recruiting interest.
“It was incredible,” Howell said. “That was a big reason schools were looking at me.”
Howell was also recruited by two Oregon schools--Southwest Oregon Community College and Corban University--but ultimately chose Walla Walla. The Warriors offered him more financial aid, and he had great impressions during his visit to the Northwest Athletic Conference school in Washington in early January.
He was recruited as an outfielder and a pitcher, and he said he plans to continue his career at a four-year school after Walla Walla.
“The coaches are just amazing,” Howell said. “It’s in a great location. I love the area.”
Nelson, who was recruited as a linebacker for the Yotes, made his decision quickly. He visited College of Idaho less than a week ago on the way back from visiting Eastern Oregon University. He also made an unofficial visit to Weber State. The decision to play for College of Idaho came down to continuing a Bonneville legacy, and joining a program that is coming off a historic 2019 season that ended with a run to the NAIA quarterfinals.
Nelson looks up to Bonneville graduate Jordan Vielma, who was part of College of Idaho’s first recruiting class upon reviving its football program in 2013, and he looks forward to following in those footsteps.
“I really like that they recruit in state, especially Bonneville,” Nelson said. “Jordan Vielma, he started out there in 2014. He’s buddies with my brother. It’s cool I can carry on their legacy.”
Nelson added that there is a possibility that he could also continue his baseball career with the Yotes, but he has not made a final decision on that yet.
“I talked to the football coach and he said is 100 percent with me if I want to walk on for baseball,” Nelson said. “I’m not 100 percent sure for baseball.”
Nelson and Howell credited their coaches for helping them reach this point, but they also acknowledged each other. The classmates decided a while ago to have a shared signing day, and it was shared in every way possible. They sat in chairs next to each other with their parents, included each other in their words of thanks before signing and preserved the moment by taking photos together and with teammates.
“We’ve been buddies a long time,” Howell said. “We’ve always planned this.”