Chad Chalich has adopted Missoula as a second home.
It shares the natural beauty that surrounds his real hometown of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, with rivers and lakes winding their way through snow-licked mountains. But western Montana comes with a football fanaticism that's even more appealing.
Griz fans are everywhere. They're intense, sometimes outrageous, but always exciting.
So, no, he doesn't miss playing for his home-state Idaho Vandals, from where Chalich transferred following his redshirt sophomore season, or regret trading in the Kibbie Dome for Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Such a thought is met with an immediate and emphatic no.
"No, not even close," replied Chalich, Montana's soft-spoken but amiable reserve quarterback. "I love it here. I want to finish out my last year here. Montana is such a great place. The atmosphere, you can't leave Montana. You can't."
Idaho and Boise State games were always on the TV in the Chalich home while the young quarterback developed into a prodigious passer. As Chalich broke records at Coeur d'Alene High School, 300-some miles south a QB named Kellen Moore was doing the same on Boise's smurf turf -- "I loved watching Kellen Moore because he's 6-foot just like me," Chalich offered -- and energizing Chalich's hopes for the next level.
Chalich earned Idaho's Class 5A Player of the Year honor in each of his final two seasons of high school and was named 2011's Gatorade Player of the Year for the state. He led Coeur d'Alene High to a No. 29 national ranking as a senior while breaking 13 school records and landing on national recruiting lists.
He chose to stay close to home, attending the University of Idaho in Moscow where the success continued. As a redshirt freshman in 2013 he started seven games, including a 416-yard performance against Temple, the ninth-best game of total offense in program history.
A season-ending shoulder injury derailed the rest of his stay with the Vandals, though. He struggled to regain the starting role as a sophomore and in the winter of 2014 was granted a transfer release that eventually led him one state to the east and Montana.
There he entered a preseason quarterback competition seven men deep in head coach Bob Stitt's unique offense.
"This offense, there's so much on the quarterback," Chalich said. "Coach gives us so much (freedom), the options to do what we want. They give us a play, but if we see something or we don't like it we can do what we need to do. It's an understanding of the game plan more and our plays, what we can do in certain situations."
The Griz coaching staff chose Chalich as its No. 2 option behind Brady Gustafson, but he was needed in just the team's third game of 2015 when Gustafson suffered a leg injury. Chalich made three starts, throwing for 900 yards and six touchdowns while supplying a boost in the running department.
His ability to create plays on the run adds an extra dimension to the Griz offense, quarterbacks coach Andrew Selle said.
"He can make all the throws that Brady can and all that, but the one added element is he's got a little bit of scramble in him," Selle explained. "He's got that internal instinct to get out of the pocket and make plays with his feet and throw on the run a little bit."
But as it did at Idaho, the injury bug struck again. A broken foot sidelined Chalich for the latter half of the season after just three weeks.
The subject of Idaho football has been close to Chalich's mind a lot recently, just not in the way that it used to be.
The Vandals announced in April their intention to return in 2018 to the Big Sky Conference and FCS football, the program's home from 1965-95. Even when Chalich was suiting up with Idaho, he remembered hearing the whispers from a certain sect of fans.
The team's conference affiliation was always in flux during Chalich's stay in Moscow. The Vandals belonged to the Western Athletic Conference his first year, played FBS independent ball his second and had just joined the Sun Belt by his third.
"I think they should (return to the Big Sky)," Chalich said recently. "... I know when they were in the Big Sky before, Montana and Idaho was huge. Back when (Missoula native and former Vandals and NFL quarterback) John Friesz was there, that was the big rivalry.
"Being in the Sun Belt, they traveled a thousand miles just to play. Getting that fan support when they can just drive up to Eastern (Washington) or driving over here to play us would be huge."
Idaho won't be ousted by the Sun Belt until after the 2017 campaign, meaning Chalich will never have the chance to face his former teammates. As a fifth-year senior, his eligibility expires at the end of this season.
Chalich has accepted his role again this fall as Gustafson's No. 2 and done so gracefully, Selle said.
"Both of those guys are team-first guys," Selle said of Chalich and fellow reserve QB Reese Phillips. "They're the first ones to get on Brady's hat when he makes a great throw for a touchdown and comes over to the sideline.
"They're very supportive, but they're ready. They know their number could be called at any time."
Such was the case for Chalich in last week's game against Mississippi Valley State, but not for the same reason it was last year. Instead of an emergency injury insertion in the game, the quarterback relieved his starter because of the score.
With Montana well on its way to a fourth victory on the year, Chalich took over at QB with the Griz leading by a stout 50-7 margin. On his second drive of action, one set up by the Grizzlies' defense when TJ Reynard recovered a fumbled punt return at the MVSU 10, Chalich scored his first touchdown since Oct. 10 of last year.
"Our offense came out and played a great first half. I thank Brady and the offense for giving me an opportunity to play," Chalich joked after the 67-7 victory last Saturday.
Chalich completed two of his five pass attempts for 14 yards, but it was his only rushing attempt of the game that moved the scoreboard. On third-and-goal, Chalich muscled through a tackler and spun into the end zone for six points.
"I was going to throw it out to our bubble (screen), try and have him score, but I kind of got hung up on the running back," said Chalich describing some timing issues on the play. "So I just put my foot in the ground and went for it. And I got it, thank God."
And the Griz are thankful, too, that Chalich is there should they ever need him.