Freshmen Football Players Keep Me Young

By Beacon Staff

Some wild-eyed and fuzzy-cheeked athletes got their indoctrination into University of Montana football recently and it didn’t occur anywhere near the gridiron, but instead deep in the catacombs of the Adams Center.

It’s here you see where young men discover who actually runs this prestigious program and whom you darn well better impress early on with your timely and efficient performance.

And don’t think even veteran players get much favor down here. It’s all about everybody doing what you’re told, when and how you’re told to do it and the result if you don’t. Suffice to say that it can be physically uncomfortable – let alone embarrassing.

I speak of the equipment room where manager Steve Hackney, a 29-year veteran of the business, and Rob Stack, his assistant for 19 years, are one of those hidden integers who are equally as important to the tradition of Montana football as any of the 100-plus or so people it takes to run the place.

“Hack and Stack,” as they are affectionately dubbed, rule the roost with more than a firm hand. Just ask any incoming player who has gotten sideways after a smart remark at the equipment room window.

They and the training room staff are also my not-so-secret barometer on the unknowns in the program each season.

When I was a U.S. Navy corpsman assigned to the Marine Corps I quickly learned my Mother was no longer there to listen to my maladies and nobody around me cared, or were likely to take her place.

Hack and Stack – often badgered with the loving or taunting chanting of their name on the plane, the bus or about anywhere else the group is assembled, are not these “puppies’” mother either. And gentlemen: “It’s clearly put up or shut up time.”

I spent the first half of this column explaining this to you, not so much to glorify the presence of a few of the myriad people behind UM athletics, but to emphasize how special it is for these young men this time of year.

You’ve been in this position, if not in athletics then somewhere else in your life. You’re one of the new people, whether it be at your job or organization, your school, maybe your church or civic group. And while you try to conceal it, there’s that twinge of uncertainty that causes you to pause and tests your mettle.

That’s why I’m so passionate about this time of year.

Annually, there’s a new group that I describe affectionately as “puppies” – some more confident and, yes, even more talented than others – that stand in front of that half-door at the equipment room, receive their first instructions and head a direction, many having no idea where it may lead.

In their impending term at UM, I may or may not individually deal with every member of this new group of 17-to-18 year olds. But, while they’re not aware of it and probably couldn’t care less, they’ll join the group of young people who have for the last 25 years kept me eternally young.

I know teachers also share this feeling on that first day in the classroom each year. But to watch, listen and interact with young people is truly what contributes to my passion about still being a part of this broadcasting and reporting endeavor.

Now some of it is more enjoyable than others.

I’m not much a fan of body piercing, although I did lose a bet to a team and now wear a Grizzly in my left ear lobe. I think tats can become overblown, although there’s a Griz and a paw on my right tricep. And I still think asking somebody “What’s goin’ on?” or “What’s happenin’?” should not be answered with another question like, “With what?”

Just figuring out how to casually communicate, let alone interview, younger players who think the microphone is as torrid as a branding iron, is always entertaining, albeit challenging.

There’s even one all-conference linebacker from the Don Read-era who never talked to the media and was protected from having to do so.

But while I’ve had my share of mid-lives and have the scars, both physical and emotional, to prove it, these “puppies” keep me – and I hope you through my words – young, vibrant and, yes, always entertained.

They’re part of a team – something I have enjoyed the majority of my life – like Hack and Stack. And for that I am eternally grateful.

The countdown is on. So let the games begin!