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The community support was a savior for Sean Swartz over the past month and a half. He saw it in notes from friends and strangers, gifts, kind words and the triumphant "92" signs in windows along his UPS route in downtown Missoula.

For Sean and his wife Jennifer, it felt like time to return the favor.

The Clinton family and the University of Montana Foundation on Tuesday announced the Kole Swartz Legacy Scholarship, named in honor of Sean and Jennifer's 19-year-old son and UM student-athlete who lost his life in March.

The scholarship will be presented annually to a defensive player on the Grizzlies football team who was born in the state of Montana, just as Kole was.

"At its core, Montana football is and always will be Montana boys," Sean said in an emotional news conference in UM's University Center before announcing the scholarship's first recipient: Kalispell Glacier graduate Evan Epperly, Kole's roommate and friend at the university.

Epperly will be a redshirt freshman and play safety for the Griz this fall. He was a teammate of Kole's during the Montana East-West Shrine Game and Montana-North Dakota All-Star Game after the pair graduated from high school in 2014.

The scholarship, which grew out of more than 350 private donations over the past weeks, is one of more than 2,500 scholarships awarded by the University of Montana Foundation each year and will be given annually to a Montana student-athlete.


Kole Swartz was an all-state defensive end for Missoula Hellgate before joining the hometown Grizzlies and wearing jersey No. 92 during his redshirt season last fall. Kole died in the early hours of March 15 of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound at a house party in Clinton.

His funeral five days later packed Washington-Grizzly Stadium with 1,500 attendees, including dozens of former teammates in their Montana maroon and Hellgate crimson.

The days and weeks that followed the tragedy were unthinkable, but the kindness the family received left its mark, Jennifer said.

"I can't tell you how many times one of us has opened something and the first lines are, 'You don't know me, but ...' " she began, speaking in front of a little more than a dozen friends, family members and media representatives Tuesday evening, "and that's followed by a story or a wonderful memory."

She paused, her eyes beginning to water.

"This fund gave us comfort and something to focus on in the future during the darkest of our time," she said. "It showed us the impact one young man can have on an entire community. 

"It feels confusing to feel blessed at a time when the worst has happened, but we are blessed."

The Swartz family made the decision to narrow the endowment scholarship's recipients to defenders on Kole's beloved Grizzly football team who hail from the Treasure State, Montana athletic director Kent Haslam said.

The 6-foot-5 tower of passion and muscle led an all-too-brief life, but touched countless people in Missoula. That's what this scholarship is really about, Haslam continued.

"When the legacy of Kole and the story of his commitment and his hard work is retold again to somebody who gets that scholarship, I think that's important," he said. "I think it's important for young people to know – there's a story, there's a history, there's a face behind these legacy scholarships.

"I think legacy and what we stand for in the University of Montana athletic department and I think Kole was the epitome of that: local boy, hard worker, blue collar, overachiever."

Haslam did not specify the annual scholarship amount, but University of Montana Foundation endowment scholarships have a minimum $25,000 mark that must be raised. A percentage of that is then offered yearly, which can be between $500 and $2,500.

The Kole Swartz Legacy Scholarship will go into effect for the 2015-16 academic year with a recipient chosen each year. That recipient can be the same student-athlete or different the next year, Haslam added.

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