Jordan Tripp (copy)

Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Jordan Tripp, a former Griz, got his first start last Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.

Jacksonville Jaguars

One play reigns above the rest in my nine years watching Montana Grizzly football.

There have been plenty of impressive ones. Marc Mariani's circus catch in the 2008 FCS championship game against Richmond. Keith Thompson's 2009 highlight-reel hit on an Appalachian State receiver. Cole Bergquist's game-saving throw to a diving Ryan Bagley that led to a win over Eastern Washington in 2007.

All three are tattooed on my brain. But what Jordan Tripp did on Oct. 19, 2013 in Washington-Grizzly Stadium bordered on the unreal.

With Cal Poly leading by a touchdown and 2:17 left, Mustangs place-kicker Bobby Zalud lined up for what would have been a game-clinching 26-yard field goal. Tripp exploded off the edge like a jaguar with its tail on fire and did the one thing you never see happen -- he blocked a field goal from what amounted to extra point distance, catapulting the Griz to an OT win.

The diving play is the perfect metaphor for Tripp's career in pro football. He simply refuses to accept defeat no matter how inevitable it seems.

Last weekend, the blue-collar guy responsible for that jaguar-like kick block made his first NFL start at middle linebacker for, ironically enough, the Jacksonville Jaguars. It's the first time a former Missoula prep started in the league since "Wild Bill" Kelly in 1930.

That's right folks, since prohibition.

"All the work and all the time put in, it's for moments like that," Tripp told the Missoulian. "Getting that type of an opportunity is just a huge blessing for sure.

"If you want to do certain things and you have certain goals, I believe only you are the one who can stop you. You just have to put that in your mind, that there's going to be ups and downs. You have to look at every instance and everything that happens as a lesson."

Tripp and the Jags whipped the Indianapolis Colts, 51-16. Jordan served as the defensive quarterback, showing his rare understanding of football at its highest level. With radio transmissions from the sidelines, he was responsible for doling out defensive assignments and rotations.

A versatile athlete who was moved from outside linebacker, Tripp finished with four tackles and was lauded by head coach Gus Bradley.

"It felt great," the Big Sky grad said. "You know it was good to be out there playing on the field, great coaches, great team. And overall it was a great team win. As always there's stuff to correct, but I'm happy with the way it went most of all."

Tripp has come a long way in a short period of time. The second-year pro was cut by the Dolphins prior to the end of training camp in early September because of an ankle injury.

He recuperated, kept himself in shape and on Sept. 22 was signed to the Jags' practice squad. He moved up to the active roster on Oct. 10 and after making eight tackles as a special teamer, he realized a dream with his first start.

"You prepare so you're ready, then you don't let the moment take you over," he said of his opportunity. "You control your emotions and do what you've prepared to do. All the work and all the time ..."

Tripp is a Garden City treasure. And not just because he fought through adversity to earn his first NFL start or made impressive plays in college.

Never forget, Jordan and his old pals guided Montana football through arguably its darkest days several years ago. We all know the sordid details but not many talk about the guys who picked up the Griz program when it was down -- the Jordan Tripps and Brock Coyles, Mick Delaneys and Ty Gregoraks.

Life changes, people move on and trophies tarnish. The guys who persevere time after time when they're dealt bad hands, those are the heroes you want to tell your kids about.

Keep it going, Jordan. And know your biggest fans will always be right here in western Montana.

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