Long before he was born, Devon Dietrich had a great-grandfather who taught school in Missoula. Though maybe it was a great-great-grandfather, that branch of the Dietrich family tree long obscured by the leaves of time.

Whomever he was, several generations later a Denver-based Dietrich bough headed north to western Montana's Garden City for a family reunion. John and Beth Dietrich walked the river trail with their two young children, skirted the University of Montana's campus to see the hikers on Mount Sentinel's famed "M" Trail and enjoyed the kind of summer evenings Missoula boasts.

Devon remembers none of it, of course. He was hardly 3 years old.

"But something must have struck a cord in him that made him come back," Beth said whimsically.

Fourteen years later during the summer before his senior year at Woodinville High School in suburban Seattle, the family's hometown for more than a decade, Dietrich returned to Missoula to investigate its academics -- and talk to the school's football coaching staff.

The business school checked out, but the best the coaches could do for the 6-foot-4, 260-pounder was offer a walk-on spot with the Grizzlies. Five years and two coaching changes later, Montana is happy those long-gone coaches did. A fifth-year senior and three-year starter, Dietrich will make his 37th consecutive start on UM's offensive line when the Griz visit Northern Colorado this week.

***

The walk-on is college athletics' best example of low risk, high reward. Either the non-scholarship student-athlete turns into a hidden gem and a boost down the road with some earned tuition money, or he or she doesn't and flames out after a year or two with little negative impact on the greater team.

From the athlete's perspective there's considerably more instability, but also ample opportunity. The latter is what Dietrich grasped as a fresh-faced 18-year-old in 2012.

"It was hard at first because the whole time I felt like I was riding a line," Dietrich said. "If I took one step off the line I'd be gone.

"... For me, I had a chip on my shoulder. I see a couple of my (high school) buddies get offered (scholarships) and guys at camps getting offered and I'm getting overlooked. That's how I attacked it: head down and work. I wasn't trying to make a big scene or anything."

And he didn't -- for the better part of two full seasons. He redshirted his first year and didn't play a snap his second as a member of the active roster. His were mostly scout team duties, playing the opponent's center or guard on the line during weekly practices to help prepare the first-stringers.

Prove yourself and more opportunities will come, Dietrich thought. He was right.

By his redshirt sophomore season, the Griz needed O-line help. Injuries and graduation sapped them of veteran bodies. Dietrich was asked to start at right tackle, the lineman farthest from the center on the quarterback's right side. He started all 14 games there that season.

"It was a huge adjustment," Dietrich said of playing tackle. "You feel very exposed out there on the edge. You've got one guy you're dealing with and you don't have help from both sides like you do at guard and center."

Montana moved Dietrich to his more natural guard position as a junior last season where he's thrived since. He started all 13 games in 2015 with nine more already in the books in 2016.

"I think it's easier to go from outside inside than the other way around," chuckled Dietrich, an all-Big Sky Conference honorable mention selection last year at guard. "When you move back down inside, everything's right there in your face. It's one step and you're hitting someone, whereas at tackle it's a lot of finesse."

It's a bit funny to hear Deitrich say such a thing. Before he was his current 309-pound self, he wasn't much interested in hitting anybody.

***

Dietrich grew up in Woodinville, Washington playing sports across the spectrum while searching for the one that fit him the best.

After a brief dalliance with baseball and basketball, soccer seemed to be the answer. Yet he soon grew too tall and couldn't compete with the smaller, quicker athletes around him. Dietrich tried martial arts too, sticking it out through awkward initial encounters to eventually earn a second-degree black belt in karate (yes, really).

"The fact that he plays the football position that he does is really contrary to his personality," explained his mother Beth. "When he first started in martial arts and had to spar, he was really uncomfortable having to get somebody, trying to punch them. He just hated that. It really, really bothered him. He struggled with that at first in football, too. It just goes against his nature."

But football fit his body size and his mind began to grow into the sport soon after. Perhaps the anonymity of the offensive line suits him well in that case.

In the two years that Montana's offensive line coach Chad Germer has known him, Dietrich is one of those players you don't have to worry about. He's steady, consistent and in control of his emotions at all times, Germer said.

"He's a very detailed guy in his mannerisms," Germer said. "He'll be that way in life. He's organized, he's structured, he's got a plan. He pays attention.

"As much as it just comes to him naturally, and that's a fact as well, he also doesn't drop his guard. He's in to it and he learns. That's as big a part of it."

His work ethic helped him earn the starting spot on Montana's line -- his 36 career starts are the most on the team outside of senior long snapper Aaron Held, who is on No. 47 -- and his dedication has kept him there.

Well, that and a little luck to complement his hours in the weight room.

"The better you can take care of your body and strengthen your body, the less likely it is that if you do tweak something that you're going to tweak it far enough to be really injured," he said.

***

Montana's offensive line knows too well that luck isn't always on its side in the injury department. The man who is supposed to be to Dietrich's immediate left, center Ben Weyer, is the best unfortunate example. Twice now, once in fall camp 2015 and once in 2016's first game, Weyer suffered season-ending knee injuries.

Those were humbling moments for his line-mates, but also motivators. Where Weyer was seen as a leader of the group, both because of his personality and his position, his absence has created a democracy of leadership among the remaining players.

It's older guys and younger ones alike, Germer said.

"Our older guys allow them to be leaders, too," Germer said. "They all share in that. (Dietrich) expects guys to do things a certain way and he's got a certain way of expressing that.

He's helping the Griz prepare for the rare day when Dietrich is no longer in the starting lineup. His consecutive start streak must be broken soon, not because of injury of ineffectiveness, but because of graduation.

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