Step back from the fervor of rivalry week and one might be surprised to realize that the 119th edition of the Brawl of the Wild doesn’t really register to people in any of the country’s other 49 states.
That doesn’t mean the Cat-Griz showdown can’t acquire a few out-of-state converts.
Montana State linebacker Josh Hill grew up in Tucson, Arizona, but today, 10 years after he moved with his family to Kalispell and embarked on a prep career that included a state championship at Glacier High School, he’s well-aware of what this week’s game means and the opportunity that he and a few of his classmates have to end their careers undefeated against the Griz.
The Beacon talked to Hill about the rivalry, his career and his old high school teammate on Monday, Nov. 18. This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
FB — When did you first come to appreciate this rivalry?
JH — I really didn’t know anything about it. I do remember watching the games in high school, paying attention to it a little bit more, but I didn’t get to understand it fully until I got to experience it myself.
FB — Has your family gotten into the rivalry at all?
JH — My mom’s from (Montana) and I’ve been coming up to Montana my whole life, but nobody in my family’s gone to either one of the schools. They’re all Cat fans now with me being here, I hope.
FB — When does this game start to get talked about every year?
JH — In the start of the season. It’s something that we talk about all year. We put that as one of our team goals every year, is that we win this game.
FB — What is different about this week?
JH — Everything’s different. The whole week of practice is different. The meetings are different. People talk about it differently. The community talks about it differently. People throughout the state and people who went to school here, it’s a big deal that I didn’t understand; still probably don’t understand everything about it. It’s a different level of intensity, different sense of urgency, different mindset, too. It’s Montana’s Super Bowl. You have to take everything super seriously this week. I can’t even really explain it. The intensity’s different. The way everybody talks about this game is so different from any other game we go play.
FB — Any particular memories stand out from your first three Cat-Griz games?
JH — My freshman year (2016) we were pretty big underdogs going into that game. We were coming in with a 3-7 record, hadn’t been playing real well in kind of a rebuilding year with the program and we went down and I got an interception in the second quarter and we ended up beating them. I remember how quiet the stadium got, dead silent when we came back and took the lead from them. That feeling after the game, I’ll never forget the feeling that time.
FB — You have a chance to go 4-0 against the Griz in your career. What would that mean?
JH — You don’t really need anything extra this week, but yesterday coach (Jeff) Choate started out with, ‘If you’ve ever lost to the Griz, stand up,’ and nobody in the room stood up. Everybody that’s on the team this year has never lost to the Griz. We talk as seniors about going out and leaving a legacy, and we have the opportunity to do something as special as that.
FB — What does it say to you that both teams are ranked in the top 10 in the country this year?
JH — It’s just a showcase of what Montana football is. You look at the rosters for both teams and it’s a lot of guys from the state of Montana, from high schools that play each other. I can look around the locker room and the roster on the other side and pick out a bunch a guys that I’ve played with or played against and have some tie to before this game. It’s cool to have that come full circle and have two of the top programs in the FCS. That shows the type of football players that are in this state.
FB — You’ve battled some serious injuries the last two years. Where are you physically right now?
JH — I ended up having two surgeries last year that I didn’t know if I was going to be able to come back from, and at the end of the summer I told Coach Choate I want to finish out my career, finish out my senior year with guys I started with, and be a part of something special. I have a lot of sore Sundays and Mondays, but I have the time and the ability and I have the trust in the people I work with to know that they’ll get me ready to play on Saturdays. When I came back (after missing three games) we had another injury and it gave me an opportunity to come back and start the last four or five games and play full games again, and that’s where I get to see all that hard work come full circle. This is why I came back for my senior year and why I put in all this time to go out and play the kind of football that I know I’m capable of playing.
FB — What’s your relationship with your old Glacier teammate (and MSU teammate) Logan Jones?
JH — We’ve been on the same team for 10 years now. We talk in practice about how many headaches we give each other, how many bruises we give each other. We’re pretty good friends off the field; we spend a lot of time together and we’ve won a lot of football games together, too. Made it to two state championships in high school. Made it to the playoffs last year. Planning on beating the Griz four years in a row. That’s something that I think we’re going to be able to talk about for along time looking back on our athletic careers.
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