MISSOULA — While a good number of Montana Grizzlies have reached the NFL in recent years, few find their way into a starting lineup.

Even fewer Treasure State natives earn a No. 1 spot on the depth chart as a position player.

Brock Coyle busted through at inside linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers this season. The fourth-year pro is fast, relentless, dedicated and, perhaps above all, persistent.

A reserve who played predominantly on special teams in his first three seasons in Seattle, Brock's ability to hit the ground running when opportunity knocked in October has him feeling better than ever about his NFL future.

"That's why you play — it's always been a goal of mine to become a starter and see how good I can be," Coyle told me last week. "It was very rewarding to become one and play well and finish the year the way we did."

Coyle started 10 of the last 11 regular-season games for a team that made history, winning six of its last seven after an 0-9 beginning. He averaged almost seven tackles a game the last three weeks as San Francisco and its upstart quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, knocked off the playoff-qualifying Titans, Jaguars and Rams.

Are Coyle and the Niners destined to be the next big thing in the NFL? I wouldn't bet against them.

"With anything, especially in sports, repetition confidence can really help," Coyle said. "That's what happened with me. Once I became the starter and really got those first team reps in practice, my confidence built with experience and making plays.

"If you have NFL tape starting football games, being successful and winning, it's very important for my career going forward. It's something I'm proud about. When I took over, our defense played a lot better. Putting good film out there is very important. I'm looking forward to seeing what comes my way in 2018." 

With the violent nature of pro football, you'd assume the more a man plays, the harder it is to get out of bed every morning. Coyle will tell you starting at linebacker was in some respect less hazardous than knocking heads at a high rate of speed on special teams.

"On defense you can use more of your technique," he offered. "The more football you play, contact you have, you become more sore but at the same point you adapt to it and your body gets used to it. You really learn how to take care of your body and how important recovery and nutrition is."

As wrapped up as Coyle is in staying on the field, he has a level of down-home perspective that should make all Montanans proud. His foundation (brockcoyle52.com) provides financial assistance toward medical and travel costs for families with children suffering from serious medical conditions.

Brock, whose sister Alexa is a standout player for the Montana soccer team, is also big on family. He plans to spend the coming weeks catching up with those that matter most in his life. Then maybe, in between, he'll catch some playoff football.

Of all the playoff qualifiers his Niners faced, the Jags stand out to him as a team "built to make a run." He's impressed with Jacksonville's defense and running game and believes the key to advancing this weekend will be getting solid play at quarterback.

Outside of his Niners, Coyle's favorite team is and will always be the Montana Griz. He played one season for Bobby Hauck back when the Grizzlies made it to the FCS final and lost to Villanova in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Coyle was excited to learn last month that Bobby was returning to Missoula.

"I remember he was the definition of a leader," Brock said. "He led his team in a way that demanded how we should play the game and how we treat our teammates and opponents.

"I remember being recruited by him and then that first year it was something that when I came in as a freshman you learned to adapt to this culture he built that was successful. He's a very commanding leader. That culture he built there was very special."

Players like Coyle make you realize what the Griz once had and what could be again.

Keep it rolling, Brock. You're living proof of what is possible for every single recruit Bobby welcomes to fall camp in August.    

Email Bill Speltz at bill.speltz@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @billspeltz.

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