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Senior defensive tackle Myles Mckee-Osibodu fights off a block to try and catch Northern Arizona running back Cory Young last Saturday in Missoula.

KURT WILSON, Missoulian

MISSOULA — A little Myles McKee-Osibodu only wanted to play basketball.

He slept with his basketball. He ate, drank and slept basketball. He watched every Los Angeles Lakers basketball game. Yes, all 82 of them every season.

"Basketball was my first love," McKee-Osibodu said. "I was always playing basketball. Everything I did was basketball."

The dribbles, the buckets, everything related to playing basketball — and all sports at all — came to a screeching halt for McKee-Osibodu in middle school. 

Doctors discovered the walls of McKee-Osibodu's heart were too thick and diagnosed him with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The disease, according to the American Heart Association, is a common cause of heart attacks in young people, including athletes.

"When your heart gets pumping too fast, not enough blood can get through," McKee-Osibodu said. "You can end up dying from that. ... The consequences of me playing could be fatal, so it was really, really tough to deal with, especially with me being a youngster. I dealt with a lot of depression."

The diagnosis wasn't a surprise. McKee-Osibodu said heart attacks have killed nearly every man in his family — including his dad, who died four months before Myles was born. 

"They didn't have the technology to be able to read it back in the day," McKee-Osibodu said. 

For three years, McKee-Osibodu took beta blockers and various medicines to help his heart pump efficiently and to hopefully get back to the court.

That day came before his junior year of high school. Doctors told him the medicines worked, he grew into his heart and he could play sports again.

"I kept faith the whole time," McKee-Osibodu said. "I knew I wasn't not going to be able to play sports forever. Something in my head was telling me, 'I'm gonna be able to get back to it one of these days.'"

But that didn't go as planned.

After that three-year hiatus, McKee-Osibodu realized he wasn't as good as he used to be. 

"I played and I was out of shape," he said. 

***

Not all was lost. 

McKee-Osibodu went to one of the biggest high school football powerhouses in the country — Centennial High School in Corona, California. 

The varsity squad at Centennial is consistently ranked among the best in the nation. When McKee-Osibodu played there, his teams were ranked No. 13 and No. 27 nationwide, according to maxpreps.com.

"The coaches were like, 'A football helmet would look good on you. You should try it out,'" McKee-Osibodu remembered. "I gave it a shot. I remember the first game of my junior year ... I was literally seventh string on JV as a junior. By the end of the season, I was second string on varsity."

Coming out of high school, he said he had approximately 12 Division II and NAIA offers. 

He had bigger dreams for himself.

"I didn't want to go Division II. I didn't want to go NAIA," McKee-Osibodu said. "I was all about getting my school paid for. I had the 'DI or D-None' kind of mentality."

So he went the junior college route. 

McKee-Osibodu went to Santa Ana Community College, just 25 miles down the road from his hometown. By the end of his time as a Don, he was a team captain and was unanimously selected to the all-conference first team. 

He said he had seven FCS offers out of junior college, with Montana being one of them. 

Montana, defensive coordinator Jason Semore said, desperately needed talent and depth at the offensive and defensive line positions.

"We were just combing through all the junior colleges trying to find defensive tackles like everybody is," Semore said. "They're in a premium. Just like in the NFL, everybody's looking for corners and defensive tackles. When we got here, the depth chart was really, really bad on the offense and defensive lines in terms of depth and talent. That was a recruiting point for us.

" ... Myles was a dude that jumped off the chart as far as the things he said and what he wanted in a college experience. He was looking to be a part of tradition. He was looking to be a part of a good unit. ... That's why we took him. He's been a great fit."

McKee-Osibodu said he went on four other official visits besides Montana. 

"I was kinda underwhelmed on all my visits until I came here," McKee-Osibodu said. "It blew me away. I was really impressed."

***

One thing from his visit stood out more than the rest — snow. 

He and defensive line coach Brian Hendricks went out to lunch downtown.

Snowflakes danced to the ground and McKee-Osibodu stood on the sidewalk in awe. The Southern California native had never seen snow before. 

"I was standing there, looking around at all the stuff falling from the sky," McKee-Osibodu said. "Coach Hendricks was like, 'Are you all right?' I was like, 'Yeah, man. I've never seen this stuff before.' He thought I wasn't gonna come here because of that."

Hendricks said: "In the back of my head, I was like, 'Well, this is doomed. He's a California boy and there's no way we're gonna get him here.' But he loved it."

The snow didn't sell him. The Montana football culture did. 

Being from California's football breadbasket, McKee-Osibodu is familiar with big-time programs. He said Montana fits right in with them.

"I've been to plenty of UCLA, USC, San Diego State games. I've been in the big college football environments and I've been in the Coliseum when it's sold out," McKee-Osibodu said. "It doesn't get as loud as Wa-Griz. There's just something special about this place."

***

McKee-Osibodu's first season as a Grizzly came in 2016. He recorded 11 tackles, including 1½ tackles for loss and two quarterback hits. 

A year later, with two games left, he's topped his total tackles mark with 12, including a half-tackle for loss as the second-string nose tackle. 

"He's very selfless. He plays behind two really, really good players and he's an upperclassman," Semore said. "He accepts that role and he buys into it and he takes his preparation seriously, so when you put him in games, he does what his teammates depend on him to do and that's give us quality reps."

Semore added: "(I'm) very impressed with what he does when he gets into football games. He can probably start for a couple of Big Sky schools at defensive tackle."

***

As much as McKee-Osibodu's grown as a football player, he's grown as a person as well. 

He's currently majoring in organizational communications with a minor in business administration. He said he's declaring his business marketing degree next semester. 

He's involved in clubs, like the American Marketing Association where he's the vice president of communications, and has an internship lined up for next year. 

"I think the greatest decision of my life was to come to Montana," McKee-Osibodu said. "I met some friends that I know are going to be lifelong friends in football and outside of football. I made some great connections from a business and school perspective. I have some great opportunities lined up for me. 

"... Just a lot of really great opportunities that, I mean, I'm sure I could get similar opportunities at other schools but I've really enjoyed myself here. It's been a new experience for me in really every aspect."

And for that, Semore's proud of his player. 

"When you talk about developing these guys, it's not just physically and playing football," Semore said. "You help them discover who they are as a person, what kind of man they're gonna be and things like that. Myles, like a lot of the other guys, have a very clear identity of what's important to them, what they believe in as a person. 

"When you have convictions about certain things, most of the time, you're going to be successful in life, regardless of what those convictions are. Myles is definitely an adult in terms of how he carries himself and knowing who he is as a person. He has a standard he carries himself by and he's just a great kid. We're glad is here."

With two guaranteed games left as a Montana football player, McKee-Osibodu knows that time is limited, even if he's staying in Missoula to finish up three degrees for the next year. 

"This place means everything to me," McKee-Osibodu said. "I've definitely developed a sense of loyalty and pride for the Griz that I really wasn't expecting to develop. This is my fourth semester here. I wasn't expecting to develop that much of a sense of pride. Coming to a place like Montana, it's kinda hard not to."

Amie Just covers Griz football for the Missoulian, among other things. Follow her on Twitter @Amie_Just or email her at Amie.Just@406mtsports.com.

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