It seems appropriate my eight-year run covering the Montana Grizzlies ends with the 2014 team.
I’ve never encountered a group with more class. Years spent covering Iowa, Iowa State, Wisconsin and Southern Illinois just don’t measure up when it comes to the day-to-day enjoyment.
Regardless of what you think about these young men as players or whatever stereotypes you maintain about NCAA Division I football, let me assure you these guys are, above all, exemplary human beings. That makes them champions in my book.
The tone for 2014 was set way back in December 2013 when sophomore wide receiver Ryan Burke delivered the ultimate Christmas gift, flying to Denver to donate bone marrow. He and his teammates all signed on as donors and encouraged others in the community to do so.
Rest assured, it’s no picnic for those called upon to follow through. From the painful shots beforehand to the recovery time, it took many weeks for Burke to get back to normal.
“I’d still rather do that than take a shot from Brock or Jordan,” joked the Billings native, referring to ex-Griz linebackers Brock Coyle and Jordan Tripp, who are now in the NFL.
Burke is one of the most personable and thoughtful college athletes I’ve ever met. And there’s dozens more just like him on this year’s Montana football team.
Why has this year’s group collectively risen above the rest when it comes to class? It has something to do with examples set by the leaders of the pack, co-captains Zack Wagenmann, Tonga Takai, Jordan Canada and Jordan Johnson. Then you can throw in a list of other likable senior leaders including Mitch Saylor, Shay Smithwick-Hann, Joshua Dennard, Sean Haynes and Trevor Rehm.
Montana’s assistant coaches also deserve some credit as good-hearted guys who know how to connect with young people. From Ty Gregorak and Kefense Hynson to Scott Gragg, Justin Green, Aric Williams, Torrey Myers and all the rest, it’s a group you’d love to have your son work with on a daily basis.
“The culture of a team starts with the head football coach,” offered Gregorak, referring to Montana’s 73-year-old skipper, Mick Delaney. “I think that kindness of his kind of spreads through the team.
“We’re a pretty tight-knit group. I think we’ve done a great job in the community. Our kids keep their noses clean and do a good job in the classroom. We’d love to see Mick go out on top. I have so much respect for him and everything he’s done for us as coaches.”
Some Griz fans will never be satisfied with their treasured program until it garners another FCS national championship. To that group I say get a life. There are far more important things than shiny trophies.
Oh sure, this writer would love to see it happen. It’s just that over the years my viewpoint on winning has been altered by life perspective.
By the time you read this column I will be on my way to Palmdale, California, where I have accepted a position as sports editor for a daily newspaper. I leave behind a piece of my heart, which will forever remain inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium.