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MISSOULA — Montana offensive lineman Payton Stoner is back with the Griz after a brief stint away during this past offseason.

Stoner, from San Diego, originally committed to San Jose State before de-committing from the FBS program and signing with the Griz. He redshirted as a true freshman in 2017, left his scholarship at Montana in February and announced in April that he’d play at Golden West College, a junior college in Huntington Beach, California.

The 6-foot-6, 282-pound redshirt freshman returned to the Griz ahead of the 2018 season as a walk-on. He's played in four games this year as a backup right tackle.

Meet Montana’s Payton Stoner:

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Q: What was it like growing up in San Diego?

A: Sunshine every day. No cold ever. When it’s 60 degrees and it rains just a little bit, people are throwing on snow jackets and boots. I lived like 20 minutes away from the beach. So, extremely different from Missoula.

Q: Did you like spending time at the beach?

A: Honestly, if you would have asked me in high school I would have said I’m not a big beach guy. But going back, I think I neglected it a little bit. It’s something that if you grow up with all the time you don’t realize the significance of it.

Q: Any brothers or sisters?

A: I have a twin sister, actually. She goes to school down in Arizona at Grand Canyon University.

Q: What do your parents do?

A: My mom, actually, she just moved up here to Missoula in early September. Once I decided to come back and join the team and got the opportunity, she decided she wanted to be able to support me for all my games. So, she just came up here and is enjoying it so far.

Q: What about pets?

A: I’m obsessed with my dog, Chowder. He’s about 10 years old, deaf, so he can’t really hear, so people love to make fun of how he can’t even hear his name, so what’s the point of even having a name. If you follow me on social media, he’s definitely on my story every other day. I’m really grateful that my mom moved up here so my dog could come along as well. He’s a pit bull-boxer mix.

Q: How did you get started in football?

A: Growing up, I was too big to play. I was over the weight limit, so my first year was eighth grade. I only played two years in high school. Things kind of took off for me my senior year and I got opportunities to go to college for it.

Q: So did you play junior and senior year?

A: I played my sophomore and senior year. I transferred schools so I had to sit out a year. I also had two shoulder surgeries in high school.

Q: What happened?

A: My sophomore year, I just got hit on a kick return, dislocated my shoulder, and it tore my labrum. During the recovery, the other one tore.

Q: Does it still bother you?

A: I’ve had some shoulder issues so far, but I’m pushing through it.

Q: You also competed in track and field in high school. What events?

A: Shot put and discus. I was more of a discus guy. Tall, lengthy. That was pretty fun, coaches not yelling at you, like in football, so it was a good change of pace.

Q: How did you end up committing to Montana?

A: I was originally committed to San Jose State. (Griz running backs) coach (Justin) Green is the recruiting coordinator, and he’s from San Diego, and he’s a big name down there. He was just on my case, coming to my house a bunch. I was like, ‘Alright, fine, I’ll take a visit.’ I came out here, and it was freezing cold. I’ve never really been in the snow like that before. I was here in December, and I just absolutely loved it, loved the feel and the people and how important football was to the community and how it wasn’t like that at San Jose State or several other schools I had offers from. I just think the support from the fans and the community is really important.

Q: Why’d you end up leaving after last season?

A: A lot of personal reasons. A lot of ups and downs. A lot of changing my mind on what I was going to try to do. And I decided I’ll go back up to Montana and just go to school. Push came to shove, and basically, I asked (Griz head) coach (Bobby) Hauck if I could have another opportunity. I came here originally on a full scholarship, and I’d have to walk back on to earn a roster spot. I said I’d love nothing more than that, starting from the bottom and work my way back up.

Q: Why did you want to come back and play?

A: I wasn’t sure for a while if I wanted to play football anymore. But one thing I really missed was the brotherhood. I’d created such good friends. Honestly, it’s really boring being a normal person. When you’re doing football and being busy and waking up early and doing things that are really hard all the time, you kind of just want to say, ‘Screw it.’ But, being someone who’s been there, it’s not fun when you say, ‘Screw it.’ It’s worth all the hard work you put into it.

Q: So what’s it been like being around the team after leaving them?

A: At first, it was a bit challenging, which I expected, just because you’ve got to earn trust. I’ve still got to earn trust for a while. It’s been amazing. I’m really grateful for the opportunity and just being able to be back with all my best friends and just try to work my way up the depth chart.

Q: We’ll close with some fun ones. Who is your favorite professional athlete?

A: I’d say LeBron James. It seems people are either Kobe guys or LeBron guys, and I love antagonizing my friends who are Kobe guys, so I figured I’d be a LeBron guy. But also his whole thing about being more than an athlete is amazing. Like how he came out with that new school and doing all these things for the community. I just think he’s the perfect role model for a young athlete to aspire to be.

Q: What are your favorite things to do besides playing football?

A: Video games. Fortnite. I remember (longer snapper Matt O’Donoghue’s) interview the other week. He tried saying he’s the best. I wouldn’t take it that far. But I’d say I’m a good, consistent player. Other than that, I enjoy hanging out with my mom, my friends and my girlfriend.

Q: Is there a big group of football players who play Fortnite?

A: Oh my goodness, it’s ridiculous. We all play. I’d have to say RJ (Nelson) and Josh Buss are probably the best. Those dudes could probably play college Fortnite if that was a thing. But we all get pretty into it. We’ll be playing for hours.

Q: If you could play any other sport at a college level, what would it be?

A: Definitely baseball. I grew up playing it, and when I had my shoulder surgeries, I couldn’t really play anymore because I was a pitcher, so I kind of left that dream in the dust. But if I could go back to it, it would definitely be baseball.

Q: What’s your favorite place in Missoula?

A: El Diablo. I just found El Diablo a couple weeks ago. I think it’s literally like the best thing ever. I’m from San Diego with Mexican food, burritos. I consider it white Mexican food, but I’ll take it any day.

Q: Does your jersey number, 71, have any special meaning to you?

A: Not really. I kind of wanted 70 when I first got here, but they gave it to Skyler Martin, and I was kind of bitter. But then I was like, ‘You know what, 71, that’s kind of cool,’ so I just kind of went with it. Then they gave it to me again when I came back. I’m embracing it.

Q: What’s your major, why did you choose it and what are you hoping to do after college?

A: Right now, I’m mixed. I’ll definitely be a business major. I’m trying to decide between finance, marketing and management information systems. I need to choose pretty soon here, so I’m just kind of taking as long as I can and figure out which one is the best fit for me.

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Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at Frank.Gogola@406mtsports.com.

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