Bring on the FCS Playoffs

This morning the bracket was released for the 2014 FCS Playoffs and I must say I am more excited than ever. I have always enjoyed the FCS Playoffs but I have been partial to the bowl system. The latter just appealed to me more because of the matchups, tradition, and prestige that came about from the postseason of the FBS. However, this year I think the FCS tournament has me more jacked than what the FBS has to offer.

The 2014 FCS Bracket (thanks to the @NCAA_FCS twitter account).

The 2014 FCS Bracket (thanks to the @NCAA_FCS twitter account).

But before I talk about the 2014 FCS Playoffs a quick recap from yesterday: Unfortunately Coastal Carolina came just a couple points short of an undefeated season. With the Chants leading the whole second half, Liberty kicked a go-ahead field goal with 1:20 left to take the lead, 15-14. Then, with no timeouts, CCU went on a gustsy drive that set them up for a chip shot game-winning field goal. But it wasn’t meant to be as Liberty busted through the line and blocked the kick. The day didn’t go to complete waste though. I had the pleasure of watching the Montana Grizzlies annihilate and embarrass the Montana State Bobcats in the 114th Brawl of the Wild, 34-7. It was very nice to see Mick Delaney and Jordan Johnson, two great individuals, end their Brawl of the Wild careers in such dominating fashion.

It was Senior Day yesterday at the Coastal game.

It was Senior Day yesterday at the Coastal game.

I am especially excited for the FCS Playoffs this year because I have a few rooting interests. First and foremost, I want to see Coastal Carolina University steamroll through the bracket and win the national championship. The Chants received a #7 seed and a bye. They will play the winner of this Saturday’s Morgan State vs. Richmond game. Yesterday’s loss proved to sting a little today because if Coastal wins on December 6, most likely the team will be traveling to Fargo to play North Dakota State. But you know what? It is definitely a winnable game. The Bison fell once this year and I watched Montana nearly defeat them this season as well. Coastal is definitely capable. But first things first, there is a playoff game in Brooks Stadium in 13 days and I can’t wait to watch it!

Coastal Carolina received a #7 seed and first round bye.

Coastal Carolina received a #7 seed and first round bye (Thanks to the @NCAA_FCS twitter account).

On the other side of the bracket, Montana received an unseeded/at large bid. The Grizzlies will face San Diego next Saturday in Washington-Grizzly Stadium. The winner of that game will travel to Cheney to face Eastern Washington on December 6. If the Griz advance, it would be a rematch from earlier this month when the Eagles defeated Montana on the red turf, 36-26. Hopefully the Grizzlies will get revenge on Eastern. If somehow the same result repeats itself, I will definitely cheer for Eastern throughout the rest of the playoffs (until they potentially meet Coastal).

Montana will host San Diego on Saturday (thanks to the @NCAA_FCS twitter account).

Montana will host San Diego on Saturday (thanks to the @NCAA_FCS twitter account).

One team I will not cheer for is Montana State. After the pathetic display of football that the team presented yesterday, I was really hoping the selection committee would have left them out in the cold where they belong. But alas, they will host South Dakota State this upcoming Saturday. I really hope the Jack Rabbits demolish them. Coastal could potentially meet the Bobcats in the semis but I don’t think that will happen solely because of the ineptness of MSU.

Of course what I would love to see is a national championship between the Coastal Carolina University Chanticleers and the University of Montana Grizzlies. How much fun would that be for me? Although I have obvious ties with both schools and would love all the buildup to the game, I would definitely be rooting 100% for the Chants. If I don’t get my first national championship game pick, I would like to see another Big South vs. Big Sky matchup with Coastal and Eastern Washington battling it out for all the marbles. To watch Alex Ross and Vernon Adams (the best player in the FCS) go head-to-head would be a real treat.

The playoffs are here and I am stoked! I look forward to the next several weeks and am anxiously hoping for deep postseason runs by both the Chants and Griz. Don’t Blink.

My Small Connection to 16 Years of NCAA Basketball Excellence

It didn’t take me long to get my feet wet in intercollegiate athletics. Nineteen years ago as an eight-year old little squirt I served as a ball boy for the Gonzaga University men’s basketball team. I had the time of my life shagging balls, wiping up sweat, and passing out water. Because of how greatly I was treated by the coaching staff (led by head coach Dan Fitzgerald and assisted by Dan Monson and yes, Mark Few) and players I developed an obsession for Zag basketball. From the time of my service as a ball boy running all the way through my senior year of high school I was a Gonzaga basketball fanatic.

Hanging out with my dad in my official ball boy issued shirt before going to work a game.

Hanging out with my dad in my official ball boy issued shirt before going to work a game.

During my two seasons as a ball boy I got to work for a couple good Gonzaga basketball teams. I got to serve with fellow ball boy Adam Morrison (who I would end up going to high school with). I got to watch Steve Nash in a Santa Clara uniform torch the Bulldogs for 40 points. I got to run around the tiny old 4,000-seat “Kennel” in Martin Centre. I got to bounce on balls in the training room. I got to have a lot of fun.

As I said I got to work for a couple good Gonzaga teams…not great Gonzaga teams. That tide shifted the season after my term as a ball boy ended. With me out of the picture and my brother taking my spot as the Reser Bulldog Ball Boy the Zags staged the seemingly miraculous run to the Elite 8 where they would come just short of making the Final Four. That special season, especially the tournament run, will always go down as one of my favorite childhood memories.

Fast forward 16 years and a lot have changed. I no longer live in the state. The Zags no longer play in Martin Centre. I have a new favorite team. Gonzaga has a new uniform deal. I keep company with a Grizzly bear and a passionate marketing team. Gonzaga keeps company with the nation’s top basketball teams and ESPN. However, after the past 16 years there is still one thing that has remained constant: Gonzaga basketball is annually making it to the NCAA Tournament.

To make it to the NCAA Tournament 16 years in a row is astonishing. To do it at a small Spokane school adds to the achievement. Players come and go, different powers rise to the top, and programs have bad years. To somehow manage to fight against averages and make it to the best postseason tournament in all of sports for so long speaks immensely to the strength of a program.

It also speaks to the head coach. Love the Zags or hate them, they definitely aren’t America’s darling anymore, Mark Few deserves complete respect from all. After Dan Monson left after his Elite 8 season Few has done nothing but coach the Zags for 15 solid seasons while picking up 400 victories. Watching our own Lady Griz coach Robin Selvig pick up his 800th win this season after more than three decades at the helm helped me realize how amazing Few’s accomplishment is. His loyalty, community service, and winning ways make me a big fan.

But these days my fandom stops at the coach. I am a diehard Griz and I wouldn’t mind if our men’s team won the conference tournament this week, drew Gonzaga in the second round, and pulled an upset by sticking it to them. Great memories and nothing but respect for Gonzaga but I would love to see the team I care about more than any other line up against the Zags on the hardwood and take care of business. Good luck to the Griz basketball team in Ogden this week. Don’t Blink.

Dominating Your Rival #GrizCat

Nothing beats defeating your rival. Well, let me rephrase that: Nothing beats defeating your rival over and over again.

Tonight both Montana basketball programs defeated Montana State, securing a season sweep resulting in a 4-0 combined record by the Griz and Lady Griz over the Bobcats this basketball season. It is a testament to blank a rival school on the hardwood, let alone the utter domination I am about to explain.

Besides just basketball, Grizzly teams this season went undefeated against Montana State in revenue-generating sports (football, volleyball, and basketball). With the two volleyball victories during the 2013 season and the BIG football win in November added with the 4-0 basketball record the Montana Grizzlies came out with a spotless 7-0 record against MSU.

Defeating Montana State in Bobcat Stadium this past November was definitely a sweet moment.

Defeating Montana State in Bobcat Stadium this past November was definitely a sweet moment.

But by no doubt the most satisfying exclamation point at the end of the #GrizCat rivalry came over this past weekend. With both the men’s and women’s indoor track and field teams finishing ahead of Montana State at the Big Sky Conference championships our athletic department wrapped up the title for the inaugural Blue Cross Blue Shield/Town Pump Brawl of the Wild year-long competition.

This is the nice piece of hardware we get to keep for defeating Montana State in a yearlong competition.

This is the nice piece of hardware we get to keep for defeating Montana State in a yearlong competition.

This athletic season the Griz and Bobcats entered into a competition that incorporated the 13 different sports that both schools have. I won’t get into all the small details but each time we face off against Montana State in a game or meet, points are at stake. There are 16 different competitions with 17 points up for grabs. By Saturday evening Grizzly Athletics had already reached the magic number of 9 thanks to the efforts of our indoor track teams.

Tonight the lead stretched even more. First the Lady Griz defeated Montana State in Bozeman. Then, just a couple minutes later the Griz dropped the Bobcats 53-50 here in Missoula. It was an awesome game to work with a loud and engaged crowd. When the clock read zeroes on the Dahlberg Arena scoreboard the other scoreboard keeping track of the year-long rivalry showed 11-2 in favor of the Maroon and Silver.

Although not the prettiest game tonight it was good enough to sweep the Cats in basketball this season.

Although not the prettiest game tonight it was good enough to sweep the Cats in basketball this season.

As I have said in previous blog posts, a healthy rivalry makes everyone work harder. I do all I can to make sure the areas I oversee triumph over the equivalent areas at MSU. My co-workers do the same. But in the end the ultimate victory is when our student-athletes dominate our friends from Bozeman. After all, this phenomenon called intercollegiate athletics is 100% about the student-athletes. Without them I wouldn’t have a job. Without them there would be a lot of people both young and old looking around for inspiration.

Congrats to our student-athletes for wrapping up the inaugural Brawl of the Wild year-long competition.

Congrats to our student-athletes for wrapping up the inaugural Brawl of the Wild year-long competition.

Congrats to all University of Montana student-athletes for really elevating Griz Nation in this state. What do you say we get those final four points still available in the competition? Go Griz! Don’t Blink.

Griz-Cat Week 2013

Griz-Cat week has arrived and there is no better time to be a Montanan! (even if you are an import like me). This Saturday the Grizzlies and Bobcats will meet in Bozeman for the 113th football meeting between the two schools.

As I said last year, I realize that this game probably doesn’t hold the weight and tradition that some of the other rivalry games across the nation do but to this state and to me, this is where the buck ends. Griz-Cat is so much more than a football game to the people of the Treasure State. For many, it is a measuring stick for each person associated with the rivalry to see where they personally match up compared to their rival.

Although I always keep an eye on what MSU is doing, during this week I especially like to see how the areas that I directly oversee compare to those of our rival. For me that means I look long and hard at our website, social media, mascot, and a few other things in relation to Montana State (I like where we are at). Other people do the same thing with their respective areas. State supremacy is on the line this week and everything must be thrown into the equation.

Of course the most important thing in that equation is the football game on Saturday. A school could hold every single advantage on the other school but if it lost the game on the gridiron, all of those accomplishments mean nothing…at least for that day. As is well documented, the Grizzlies have crushed the Bobcats overall in the Brawl of the Wild. Currently Montana enjoys a 69-37-5 edge in the series. But please go ahead and throw every rivalry cliché in the book at me right now, I realize records mean absolutely nothing for games like these.

Montana will have its work out for them on Saturday. Montana State is playing at home and no doubt they will play with a lot of anger and urgency as they try to end a two game losing streak and make the playoffs. The Bobcats have several marquee players on their team who will undoubtedly bring their “A” game this weekend. The Grizzlies will have redemption on their mind. After dropping a close game last year to the Cats, Montana will go into Bozeman looking to add another “W” to the Griz-tilted overall Brawl of the Wild record while possibly securing a bye in the first round of the playoffs.

For myself I am beyond excited for the game on Saturday. Among working the 2009 Montana-App State game, going to the NCAA Tournament, and working that faithful tournament championship Saturday where we sent both our women’s and men’s basketball teams to the Big Dance, the 2011 Griz-Cat football game is one of my favorite memories during my tenure working for Grizzly Athletics. I hope to have a similar experience when I go to Bozeman this weekend.

To all the Grizzlies and Bobcats out there, have a great Griz-Cat week! This is a wonderful time for the state of Montana to celebrate two great universities. A few reminders: 1. Use the #GrizCat hash tag for all Tweets, Instagram photos, and Facebok posts. 2. Be respectful to the other side at all times. 3. Remember that kick off is at noon in Bobcat Stadium on Saturday. Enjoy the week and Go Griz! Don’t Blink.

Enter the #GoGriz Photo Contest

A little over a year ago, I participated in a social media contest that consumed my life and brought out my competitive juices. Northern Quest, a resort in my former home of Spokane, held a photo contest in honor of Mother’s Day. The resort asked its social media audience to submit a photo of themselves with their mom to the Northern Quest Facebook page. Once a photo was submitted, it was eligible to get likes and comments. At the end of the weeklong contest, the photo with the most combined likes and comments would get a spa package for their mom that included a night stay in the resort’s ultra fancy hotel.

I went absolutely nuts putting all of my energy into winning this contest. After much campaigning, pleading, and schmoozing with pretty much everyone I knew who had a Facebook account, I ultimately held off the large field and won the prize package for my mom.

This is the photo I submitted that won the prize package.

This is the photo I submitted that won the prize package.

So after having a great experience competing in a fan-voted social media picture contest, you can definitely bet that I am loving the fact that this week I get to run one! On Monday, Grizzly Athletics presented the #GoGriz Photo Contest. Our fans simply have to submit a photo that in some way incorporates our official hash tag, #GoGriz, and then hope that their photo garners the most votes possible. Sounds easy, right?

Well in theory running a contest like this sounds very simple but there actually is a lot of work on the backend that takes place. I am talking about behind the scenes type work such as making sure everyone follows the rules, offering a clear and functioning voting platform, crowning a legitimate champion, and compiling information from our Facebook fans that will in turn help us better serve them through Grizzly Athletics.

Enter a key player in this whole process…Think Social. Because of our contract with our third party rights holder (Grizzly Sports Properties) we have the luxury of teaming with some pretty cool partners. One of these partners is Think Social, a company that specializes in running Facebook contests for intercollegiate athletics departments. Along with our associate athletic director, the two of us sat down in a call with Think Social and we told them exactly what we wanted to accomplish with this contest. I wanted to continue to raise awareness for our hash tag, offer our fans another great social media promotion, and increase our like count on our main Facebook page. Our associate AD wanted to spread word that season tickets are still available, compile a database of some of our loyal fans, and see if this platform could help us in the future. Think Social designed the contest with our goals in mind and only two days into the contest I can proudly say that we have either already reached or are close to reaching them all (contest ends on Monday).

While Think Social facilitates the contest, I get to do all the marketing for it. This includes spreading the word throughout all of Griz Nation, generating enthusiasm for the campaign, coming up with creative ways to get people to submit photos, updating fans on a daily basis, and showcasing the great submissions that our fans turn in. Definitely a cool job.

This is currently the second place photo in the contest (122 votes).

This is currently the second place photo in the contest (122 votes).

But enough of this long story on how the contest came to be. What I really want to do in this blog post is tell you to enter the contest!! Why am I telling you to do this? One reason of course is because it is very simple. Another reason is because it is fun to submit a photo and see who will vote for it, closest friends and total strangers both included. A big reason is also because of the prize given to the person who submits the photo that gets the most votes: 2 Griz football season tickets (pretty much the most coveted thing in the state)!! But the main reason why you should enter is because you can WIN!

I am convinced that any of my Facebook contacts who have at least 500 friends on the network and who have half a brain about how social media works can pull this victory off. All it takes is hard work and some creativity. If you are reading this right now I have faith that you could submit a photo in the next two minutes and by 8 a.m. tomorrow morning you could pull into first place, right ahead of the person who has 140 or some odd votes right now. It just takes some drive and some innovativeness to do it. I know you all are capable of doing it.

This is currently the picture that is in first place (144 votes).

So what are you waiting for? Click here and submit your photo. Just make sure to incorporate the #GoGriz hash tag and remember that using babies or cute cats always seems to work best. Go Griz! Don’t Blink.

A Couple Fun Days on Tap

I always say that June is one of the best months of the year and it looks like 2013 will be no disappointment. Over the next couple of days I will get to enjoy a couple of fun events, some travel, and, if the forecast holds up, plenty of sun. June is here and the good times are just getting started!

Tomorrow the fundraising organization of our athletic department holds the Conoco Grizzly Golf Classic. Held at Canyon River Golf Course, this is definitely one of my favorite days on the work calendar. Starting early in the morning, many of our coaches, prominent community members, and diehard Griz supporters will tee up and play a round of golf on the beautiful course. The golfers won’t be alone. Many of our staff members, myself included, will help out throughout the whole day to make sure all participants have a great experience.

There are plenty of hot dogs served at the tournament (picture with Stacey from last year).

There are plenty of hot dogs served at the tournament (picture with Stacey from last year).

But it is just not the golfers that have a great experience…us volunteers do too! Getting to enjoy a day out of the office around co-workers in a fun and relaxed setting is the best. Getting to see the amount of Griz Pride that our community members and supporters have is pretty cool too. This year my main job will be to shuttle golfers from the third hole to the fourth hole. Worried about my golf cart driving skills? Don’t be. Today a group of us drove four carts from campus to the golf course, a roughly six mile trek over bridges, through a supermarket parking lot, and down a highway. Call me a pro if you please.

Just like last year I will be driving  the golf cart again.

Just like last year I will be driving the golf cart again.

After a tasty Outback catered lunch to conclude the golf tournament, I will get in my car and hit the road for Spokane. The Reser Family hotel will be open as I crash at my parents’ house for the night. Then in the morning, my sister and I will pile in my folks’ CRV and we will travel even further west to Ellensburg, Washington, for my brother’s college graduation.

My brother is graduating from Central Washington University with a degree in recreational tourism. The ceremony will take place in the Wildcats’ football stadium under what are supposed to be sunny skies. After it becomes official that day at 2 p.m. that my bro is a college graduate we will turn back around and return to Spokane. I will return for the night while my brother will return for the summer as he begins an internship with the Spokane Valley Parks and Recreation Department. But before that important internship starts, there will be some celebrating in order that evening. It should definitely be a fun time to commemorate by brother’s achievement.

Glen is graduating from Central Washington where he played baseball.

Glen is graduating from Central Washington where he played baseball.

Golf and Graduation, doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Throw in the sunshine that the weatherman has promised and I am pumped up for an awesome weekend. I hope that all of you have a great weekend as well and thanks again for taking the time to read my blog. Don’t Blink.

5 Things I Learned About The South

By spending time in Tennessee and North Carolina this past week, I took advantage of a great opportunity to experience the south. With some time in Florida accounting for my only true taste of how things are in the southeastern United States, I got exposed to a relatively new culture. I thoroughly enjoyed observing both the differences and similarities between the life “there” and the life “here.” In this post I simply want to bring to light the five main themes I observed while in the “Tar Heel” and “Volunteer” states.

Accents – I always thought when I watched movies that took place in the south the actors would greatly exaggerate their accents just to give the film more flavor and extra credibility. Boy, was I wrong. The southern accents in Tennessee and North Carolina are thick. Words are said differently, sentence speed is in a whole other league, and unfamiliar expressions are used.  The way people talked made the accent of my travel partner, a Texas native, sound like he was from California. You know a way that a girl can get to my heart?…have a southern accent. I don’t know how else to describe it but many of the women just sounded so sweet when they talked. I sometimes wondered if it sounded like I had an accent when I interacted with the people down there but I never did ask. Any of my southern readers care to answer my question?

Eating Good in the Neighborhood – There is no other place that eats the way the south does. Having traveled through much of the country and indulged in shoving my face at each place, I can honestly say that the south takes the cake. Although too busy to sit down to eat most of the time, we did get to experience some southern dining. The night we got in to Johnson City, Tennessee, we ate at a little dive restaurant called Red Pig Bar-B-Q. The place just had that southern comfort feel the moment you walked in. Right when we came through the doors the owner of the restaurant came up and shook our hands. The special of the day was written out on a chalk board while the rest of the food selections could be found on paper menus.  For $9.99 I got a half rack of ribs, baked beans, cheese fries, and garlic bread. The combination and quantity was something I was definitely not used to.

Welcome to the Red Pig Bar B Q

Red Pig dinner: ribs, cheese fries, beans, and bread.

The next day we had to meet with the restaurant that was catering the post-game meal for the football team. During the meeting we were treated to lunch. The server came out and said “This is how it works here…I am going to bring you ten different items and let you eat until you get full.” He then returned with fried chicken, mashed potatoes, Salisbury steak, green beans,  cole slaw, biscuits, corn, apple sauce, and two other items I can’t remember. He kept coming back asking us what we wanted more of. We then ate banana pudding for dessert. BBQ places lined the streets, grits were served everywhere, and I am pretty sure no one ever left a place hungry.

This meal really hit the spot.

No Excuse Not to go to Church – The first thing I noticed once we got in the rental car and started driving from place to place were the vast array of churches. Just a couple of sentences ago I said BBQ places lined the streets but churches still had them covered. Predominately Baptist, these churches were at every corner of our journey. It was interesting to see the different architecture/building design of each one and it was fun to read the marquees as each church had its own thought provoking and clever saying to catch the eye of parishioners. We joked that there had to have been at least one church for every two people who lived in the region. Then again, I kind of think there had to be some truth to this thought because every church we drove past we never really saw anyone outside or vehicles around the structure. But I guess it was not Sunday.

 

The marquees of the churches always had someting thought-provoking for you to contemplate.

Color Me Green – The areas of the south I visited on this trip had great natural beauty as everywhere we went was covered with lush green trees, bushes, and plants. It seemed like we were on back roads for the majority of our transportation from place to place and it was as if we were driving through Sherwood Forest. It really did look like a fantasy land. The thick green trees extended across the roadways, making for a tunnel of green foliage that we drove through. On Saturday morning, a co-worker and I drove up to an area that overlooked acres upon acres of vibrant forest land. It was quite the sight. Even at Kidd Brewer Stadium you were surrounded by greenness and trees. The humid temperatures and good amount of rain the area receives contributes to its impressive blooming appearance.

Everything we saw was green.

Southern Hospitality – Finally, I will remember from my visit the kindness and genuineness that the locals treated us with. As I mentioned in my post from last night, we were treated with class and thankfulness from the Appalachian State fans. The same can be said about the athletic department staff from App State as well. They went out of their way to accommodate us and make sure we had every need tended to. But it goes even beyond the folks at Appalachian State. Everyone who Jimmy and I worked with were top-notch from the hotel staff to the airport personnel to the transportation specialists. But again, it goes beyond them too. Everyone who we just encountered as a byproduct of spending time in the area (from the supermarket clerks to the waitresses who served us breakfast to the people on the roadways) treated us with nothing but consideration and respect. Yes, southern hospitality.

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We are constantly told stories, fed stereotypes, and left to wonder about ways of life many miles away. The thing is, we will always be left to wonder unless we actually get to visit the places in question. Luckily for me, I was fortunate to visit an area of the country I had never explored before and was able to bring back with me to the good ol’ west  a very favorable opinion.  Don’t Blink.