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Former Griz football star honored

DILLON - Is it fun to play football?

Who's your favorite pro team?

Does getting hit in football hurt as much as a wreck in motocross?

University of Montana Grizzly football standout Jon "Skinny" Skinner found himself answering all sorts of questions Thursday as Dillon rolled out the red carpet to welcome a hometown hero.

Dillon celebrated Jon Skinner Day by inviting him into local schools and presenting him a key to the city during halftime at the Beavers' basketball game Thursday night.

The 6-foot-7 320-pound Skinner earned all sorts of accolades during his four-year stint on the Grizzly football offensive line. As a sophomore, he earned All-Big Sky honorable mention honors, made the second team as a junior, and this past season was named a first team all-conference guard. During Skinner's tenure with the Griz, the team won or earned a share of the league crown. He played in two national championship games and helped the team win the national title in 2001.

"He's so big that when he gets on the field and gets after people, they usually don't have much of a chance," said UM Grizzly head coach Bobby Hauck.

Skinner's former middle school teacher and football coach, Lee Pelletier, kept a close eye on Skinner from the grandstands. And what he saw made him proud.

"I always remembered that he had lots of talent, but he didn't have a lot of confidence when he first starting playing in middle school," said Pelletier. "I watched him through his college career, where he realized and reached his potential. I use him as an example with the kids I coach now. I tell them Jon Skinner was the same when he was younger and if they are willing to listen and work hard, they'll get better."

Pelletier also noted how Skinner was always good with kids.

"Kids would run up to him after the game and he always took the time to talk with them," said Pelletier. "He was just a good role model. We need more positive role models for kids."

Skinner also excelled in the college classroom. As an elementary education major, he's made the dean's list and earned Academic All-Conference honors. Off the field he served as a mentor in Missoula-area schools, tutored math and volunteered for special-education events.

Over the years, Pelletier said Dillon has produced excellent athletes, but the town has never really celebrated their achievements.

"Jon gives us an opportunity to thank them all," he said. "Hopefully, we can start a tradition. To me, we need to do that for the kids."

Dillon Mayor Marty Malesich presented Skinner with a key to the city Thursday night at a home Beavers' basketball game after earlier signing a proclamation that set aside Jan. 8 as Jon Skinner Day.

"Young kids just idolize him," said Malesich. "He's such a positive role model. That's absolutely almost rare."

Skinner was surprised at the reception.

"I had no idea it would be anything like this," he said. "I never really thought this would happen … I do think it's great."

Skinner soon will begin student teaching. At the same time, he's looking at the potential of signing with an agent who will help guide him through tryouts for a shot at professional football.

"Right now, who knows if it's going to happen," he said. "It's kind of like college recruiting. I should know by the end of spring if I've made a team."

If he does, Malesich said there certainly will be a lot of instant fans for that team in Dillon.

"I know I'll be one," he said.

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