MISSOULA — Alex Mustard sprints with a chip on his shoulder.
It comes with the uniform for a lot of Treasure Staters competing on the Montana Grizzly track and field teams. Brutal spring weather puts them behind the 8-ball in high school, so they're bucking the odds by just being on an NCAA Division I team, let alone winning.
Mustard is that rare Missoula-raised man who has succeeded on the Big Sky Conference level in short sprints. Recruited by Pac-12 track programs and Big Sky track and football programs, he chose to be a Grizzly and four times has earned all-conference honors.
That's saying something when you spend your winters practicing on a mat inside the Adams Center's West Auxiliary Gym. When you're up against sprinters who train year-around on an all-weather tracks.
OK, you're right, we've covered this topic before. Montana's chances of building an indoor all-weather track facility in the near future are about as good as building a dome over Washington-Grizzly Stadium. There's no use stewing about it.
Mustard and his teammates make the most with what they have. They make it their goal to deliver in underdog roles. They embrace the gifts they're given as members of the Grizzly team.
The ultimate gift is coming their way in 27 days. That's when the Grizzlies will host the Big Sky Conference meet at Dornblaser Field.
For Mustard, it's the closest thing to track heaven, competing for a Big Sky gold medal in his hometown.
"That meet is actually a big part of the reason I redshirted last year," said the former Missoula Big Sky three-sport standout. "It will be a unique opportunity for us athletes that are Missoula natives.
"I think combined across all classes we had like 30 redshirts last year, which is a huge number. A lot of it was so that we could compete as a team for a conference championship in Missoula. It would have been really difficult to walk away from the opportunity."
Credit head coach Brian Schweyen with keeping Montana track and field in a good place the past decade. The women's team has come darn close to winning the Big Sky meet, taking second as recently as 2017.
Could there be a Missoula miracle at Dornblaser next month? Well the women finished sixth in the Big Sky indoor and the men ninth, so it's a long shot.
"I think of the baseball movie 'Moneyball,' how the Oakland A's have such a small payroll but have done so well," Mustard offers. "Why couldn't we be the A's of the Big Sky meet?"
It's terrible to think, but maybe, just maybe, it would be better if the weather was awful for the Big Sky meet. So awful, in fact, that the grit of Montana-raised Grizzlies comes shining through.
"Those of us that are Montana natives take a lot of pride in the fact we've run in all sorts of weather," said Mustard, who sat out of the 100- and 200-meter sprints at the Montana Open Saturday to rest his hamstrings. "We have a certain work ethic that gets us here. We all maybe had similar upbringings. We weren't running in 90-degree weather."
Regardless of what happens in the team race, it's going to be a hoot to see which Montana natives can find another gear in front of an unusually large crowd. My prediction is we're in for something special in the shadow of Mount Sentinel.
"We'll never have the same number of fans as a Griz football or basketball game," Mustard said. "But I have classmates that never, ever are able to watch track meets — or maybe don't have an interest in watching — and I think they'll be here."
"It'll be awesome. I don't know how many college athletes get that type of experience."
Almost 50 percent of Montana's track and field program is made up of Treasure Staters. With lots of encouragement from Griz Nation, it will be fun to see which ones realize a dream on May 11.