Few expected Jerry Louie-McGee to be a heavy contributor in his first few games with the Montana Grizzlies, including the diminutive receiver from Idaho. None would have been so bold to predict the numbers he's churning out already.
Except perhaps his father.
"I watched Jerry as an eighth-grader just totally destroy people in 8-man football," remembered Wade McGee with a chuckle this week.
The tiny field in Plummer, Idaho, a town of about 1,000 residents at the heart of the Coeur d'Alene Reservation, might as well be a million miles away from Washington-Grizzly Stadium and FCS Division I college football. Yet the latter is the setting of the latest verse in the ballad of the underdog.
The legend of Louie-McGee is growing in Missoula.
Montana's redshirt freshman walk-on receiver – that's right, a non-scholarship walk-on – has captured the imagination of Griz fans. His ability to change directions on a millisecond's notice is surpassed only by his speed, his flowing hair the last sight seen by vanquished defenders. In three weeks' time, Louie-McGee has gone from anonymous newbie to budding star in Bob Stitt's offense.
"It's crazy to me," said Louie-McGee, who shattered Montana's single-game receptions record with 21 against Cal Poly on Saturday. "You go from being a walk-on and learning how everything works to this; it's been a crazy experience so far."
Louie-McGee attended Lake City High School in Coeur d'Alene, 30 miles north of the family's home in Worley, an even smaller town on the Native American reservation. Before his freshman year – and before his older brother Tucker's sophomore year – the family took up a second residence two blocks from the larger high school.
The move was one part academics, one part athletics and all about the boys' future.
Jerry and Tucker Louie-McGee began an assault on the 5A classification, the highest in the state, after arriving from the lowest: 1A Division II Lakeside High in Plummer. All the while their parents commuted back and forth for work on the reservation.
"My parents, it's all because of them," said Louie-McGee of his mother Debbie Louie-McGee and father Wade, who remains director of vocational rehabilitation with the Coeur d'Alene tribe to this day. "I'm truly blessed to have those two in my life. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for their sacrifice."
The duo's coach at Lake City was Van Troxel, a former Montana quarterback (1972-75) and Missoula Hellgate football coach before heading west in 1994.
Tucker Louie-McGee landed with Idaho State after graduation in 2014. Despite being an all-state selection at running back, as dangerous carrying the ball as catching it, the younger Louie-McGee didn't draw as much attention from colleges as he'd hoped. Signing day came and went in 2015 before the 5-foot-9, 170-pounder agreed to walk on with the Griz that June. The commitment was seen as so inconsequential, no story even ran in this newspaper.
There was little to prove otherwise through his first 6 months in Missoula. Like all the other walk-ons, he didn't play a snap last fall. It wasn't until just before spring practices this past March that the coaching staff began to realize Louie-McGee's true potential.
"It was the offseason and (strength and conditioning coach Matt) Nicholson started talking about him, some of the times he had when they ran him in the 40(-yard dash)," Stitt said. "Then he got out there in spring ball and really did some dynamic things."
Dynamic is an understatement. He caught a 44-yard touchdown in Montana's second spring scrimmage and then returned a kickoff 99 yards to the house in its final one, the annual spring game, with fans in the seats to see it.
He hasn't let up since starting the games that count. In the Grizzlies' second outing, a clash with third-ranked Northern Iowa on the road, Louie-McGee's 81-yard punt return for a score swung the outcome in Montana's favor. That was only an appetizer for this past week.
Louie-McGee hauled in 13 passes against the Mustangs in the first half and 21 for the game to surpass Josh Paffhausen's UM record of 15 that stood since 1997. The 21 tied the Big Sky Conference's all-time mark.
Included in that mass of catches – a decent season for some college receivers – were two touchdown receptions as quarterback Brady Gustafson, who Louie-McGee credited for much of his success, had his own career day.
"He's a great talent. You can't waste somebody like Jerry," Stitt said. "You need to get him the ball and see what he can do.
"Defensively you'd better worry about him. You'd better have a plan. I hope (opponents) are spending a lot of time on stopping Jerry. That's just gonna help us. They'll focus so much on that they won't have time to stop the base stuff that we do."
He registered 28 touches against Cal Poly with the Griz playing the odds. If you give the ball to JLM enough times, he's going to make someone miss and head off to the races.
Louie-McGee now has 32 grabs for 248 on the season, already a large chunk of the way to Joe Douglass' Griz record of 82 in a season (1996). And there's still eight games to go for Montana's most unassuming superstar.
And three more seasons after that.
"If you take a first look at me, I don't look like a football player," said Louie-McGee, more a celebrity by name than by face thus far. "I look like a normal, small kid. It's cool. Nobody recognizes me."
That won't last long at this pace.