It was the fall of 2008, and Brock Coyle had a decision to make.
For as long as he can remember, Coyle’s dream was to play college football. And by the time he became a decorated, all-state player at Bozeman High School, he had plenty of suitors.
Montana State, his hometown university, was certainly one of them. And the Bobcats made a huge push. So did Montana, MSU’s century-long nemesis 200 miles to the west.
Mick Delaney, then the Grizzlies’ running backs coach, spearheaded UM’s effort to snare Coyle, along with head coach Bobby Hauck and recruiting coordinator Dominic Daste. And an old-fashioned in-state tug-of-war ensued.
Coyle ultimately chose to join the Grizzlies and he hasn’t looked back.
“I remember coach Delaney called me after my first game against Helena Capital my senior year. He had a big influence. He’s a great man,” Coyle said. “I made a recruiting visit, and I’d never seen an atmosphere like the one at Washington-Grizzly Stadium before. Ultimately I just knew this was the right place for me.
“I felt at home here. I felt like the coaches truly cared about me and truly wanted me to be a part of the program. They showed it from the first phone call. It’s been great ever since.”
The 6-foot-2, 245-pound Coyle began his Griz career as an outside linebacker, but moved inside after sitting out the 2010 season with a shoulder injury. Coyle said Griz defensive coordinator Ty Gregorak, who was then the full-time linebackers coach, helped immensely in the transition.
Flanked by outside linebackers Jordan Tripp and John Kanongata’a, Coyle has been the quarterback of the defense from his middle position for the past two seasons.
“He’s a leader,” said Delaney, now the Grizzlies head coach. “He plays hard, he’s a physical guy and he’s a good tackler. He and Tripp and Kanongata’a are as good a linebacker group as there is in our conference.”
So far in his senior season, Coyle has a team-high 99 tackles (nine for loss), 1½ sacks, two forced fumbles
and two interceptions. His interception in the end zone in overtime against Cal Poly helped seal a 21-14 come-from-behind victory.
“Moving over from the weak side, that helped me a lot to understand the entire defense,” Coyle said. “Having the experience of moving from the outside to the inside has absolutely helped me in my performance and my play.”
Naturally, Coyle has special feelings about the rivalry between Montana and Montana State. Saturday’s game against the Bobcats in Bozeman will be his fifth as a member of UM’s program and the third in his hometown.
Coyle said UM’s defense will have its hands full with Montana State.
“It all starts with (quarterback) DeNarius McGhee. He’s arguably one of the best Bobcats of all-time,” Coyle said. “He makes plays in the pocket, outside of the pocket, both with his arm and his legs. The same goes for (running back) Cody Kirk. He’s had a great career over there. He’s a tough running back and an extremely hard worker. I have a lot of respect for him.”
Coyle was heavily involved against the Bobcats last year, making a game-high 19 tackles. But the Grizzlies lost 16-7. It was the final game of a turbulent 5-6 season in which they missed the playoffs for the second time in three years.
But 2013 has served as a major bounce-back. Montana is 9-2, having won three straight games.
The Grizzlies are on the doorstep of a return to the postseason, and a win over MSU would guarantee it. Coyle is doing what he can to make it happen.
“It’s been an awesome rivalry to be a part of. It’s why you play football,” Coyle said. “I feel like I’ve got a very good appreciation for this rivalry growing up in Bozeman and seeing it from that angle.
“Now, playing for the Grizzlies, it’s huge. For me to go down to Bozeman and play my last regular-season game in Bobcat Stadium in my hometown, it means everything to me. I’m trying to make sure I’m ready to seize the moment and play my best.”