MISSOULA — Montana Grizzly defensive lineman Jesse Sims ran out of the tunnel with a smile on his face during the spring game.
This wasn't the ordinary tunnel tradition though. This was something new.
During halftime of Montana football's annual spring game, Sims came out of the tunnel sporting his new jersey number — No. 37.
"It means a lot to me," Sims said of wearing the number. "There's been a ton of great guys that have worn this number in the past, not just great players on the field but great guys off the field. I'm very honored just to be a part of it."
Sims is the fourth straight and eighth overall defensive lineman to wear No. 37 since the tradition began in 1983.
There is only one criterion to be able to wear No. 37 at Montana. The player who wears it must hail from Montana.
"Jesse's been in this program a long time and the No. 37 is a big deal in this program," Montana head coach Bobby Hauck said. "It's an honor to have it and Jesse's well aware of that. He's excited about it. He was pretty emotional about it, actually. There's some responsibility and expectation that goes along with that and I think he's ready for that."
Regardless of position or hometown, Sims is the 14th player to wear the jersey. The tradition started with Plentywood native and fullback Kraig Paulson. He first passed the jersey to Tim Hauck for the 1987 season and from there on, the No. 37 tradition of toughness, grit, dedication and hard-nosed play began.
And Tucker Schye, who wore the jersey last season, believes Sims fits that mold.
"He's just a guy that does everything right," Schye told 406mtsports.com. "(He does) all the little things, a great teammate and obviously he's super talented too."
Schye officially bestowed the number on Sims on Friday while the two met up to grab some food.
"It was cool. Jesse's a hard dude to read," Schye said of passing down the jersey to Sims. "He's a pretty serious guy, but I could tell he was excited. We had a good little moment. He's happy to be wearing it."
Schye said he chose Sims after careful consideration through spring practice and only recently made the decision.
"I really wanted to make the right decision and I knew it was Jesse," Schye said.
Sims, of Stevensville, was eighth on the team in tackles last season, racking up 43 takedowns. He also had six tackles for loss, 3½ sacks, two quarterback hurries and a forced fumble last season as a sophomore.
Even though Sims is from Stevensville, he attended Corvallis High School to end his prep career.
Being from the Bitterroot Valley, Sims knows how important and meaningful the No. 37 tradition is to not only the area, but the state and program itself.
"Growing up in the Bitteroot Valley, it's definitely something I heard about all the time," Sims said. "That was the guy to watch. Growing up and watching all those guys, now being a part of it is pretty cool."
Sims is the fourth Missoula-area player to wear the jersey. The first was Deer Lodge's Carson Bender from 2008-10.
Missoula native linebacker Jordan Tripp wore No. 37 from 2012-13. Tripp then bestowed the number onto fellow Missoulian Zack Wagenmann for 2014.