AJ Mazzolini mug

Goodbyes are awful and uncomfortable. So instead of bidding you all a fondest of farewells, I'll simply say thank you.

I came to the Missoulian in 2013 fresh off my first job in daily journalism at a small paper in the dustiest corner of Oregon. It was a chance to return to the state that raised me in a town I love and to continue doing the work that inspired me.

I leave 4 1/2 years later -- to begin a new adventure in graduate school at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee -- feeling more blessed than ever.

So thank you, Missoula, for giving me an opportunity to tell your stories, a chance to laugh and cry with you in victory and defeat, in celebration and in mourning.

I am humbled and honored to have been allowed into your lives, given access to your emotions and memories. I know it's scary to welcome a stranger into your vulnerabilities, to put trust in a person who will craft a narrative from your most intimate details. Please know it is a responsibility I never took lightly.

I couldn't possibly thank all the thousands of voices who contributed to my articles, but I feel like a few sources deserve special mention. Including most recently, from a piece appearing on A1 of this same edition of the Missoulian.

Thank you, Somer Treat, for letting me in to talk about what was no doubt the most difficult moment of your life. Somer is as strong a person as I've ever known and is spending this weekend running the Missoula Marathon with 40-some family members and friends to honor her late husband, Brad, who lost his life last summer in a bear attack. I'm sorry I was never able to know him.

Thank you, Ellis Henderson, for your willingness to discuss the darkness that few could see. Depression and suicide prevention is a topic close to my heart and Ellis's decision to shine a light on his struggles took tremendous courage. Telling his story remains, I believe, my most important accomplishment in journalism. Through his compassion and status as a Griz football player, who knows how many lives his words touched. Hope all is well, my friend, and never forget to love yourself.

Thank you to the Tinkle family, for your unparalleled access in a time of great stress. Young Tres's candor regarding his future, in whether to follow his parents out of state or finish out his senior year of high school here, showed maturity beyond his years. I hope he looks back fondly on that strange year at Hellgate High while Wayne and Lisa were in Corvallis, Oregon. Best of luck to the father and son duo now at Oregon State.

Thank you to MaryAnne Dowdall and the Tyvand family, for opening your home and your memories to help me illustrate Ben Tyvand's remarkable journey just weeks before his death. At 94 1/2 years young, Ben could still recount full football schedules and scores from his years with the Montana Grizzlies. I'm sorry the oldest Griz didn't have the chance to see his Montana boys once again on top.

And finally, thank you to the Missoulian and the most quietly kind man I know, former sports editor Bob Meseroll, for opening the door to what can only be described as a dream job. I cheered for the Griz long before earning a diploma from the University of Montana's School of Journalism and will continue to from afar. Heck, my only trip to the state of Tennessee before this year was to Chattanooga to watch UM play in the national championship (stupid Richmond Spiders!) as a fan.

But don't worry, Missoula sports lovers, you're still in good hands at the paper of record. Amie Just, an intrepid reporter with big ideas that match her ambition, has already stepped in to fill my stead. She'll be a tremendous complement to veteran columnist Bill Speltz and preps guru Kyle Houghtaling. And with editor in chief Kathy Best at the helm, I expect grand things from the Missoulian.

It's been a wonderful ride, especially the past 2 1/2 years as your Griz football beat writer. The job quite literally took me places I'd never expected to go -- Lynchburg, Virginia anyone? -- and forced me to become a better and more efficient writer and reporter. It wasn't always easy, but I'm thankful for my time covering UM, its coaches and its student-athletes, each of whom has a unique story waiting to be told.

Now it's time for me to discover my story.

Former Missoulian reporter AJ Mazzolini can be reached on Twitter @ajmazzolini.

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