MISSOULA — Sentinel senior Jace DeWalt spent Saturdays in the fall attending Montana’s home football games, going down onto the field during warmups along with other prospects.
The Griz never extended an offer to DeWalt during the fall semester but said there could potentially be a spot available after spring camp, although no promises were made. So, the triple-threat player opted for the certainty of NAIA school Montana Tech and was announced as part of the 2019 recruiting class on Jan. 30.
About three months later, DeWalt got a call from Griz offensive coordinator Timm Rosenbach as the school day was winding down on Monday. He was extended a spot as a preferred walk-on, soon after accepted the offer and shared his commitment as part of the 2019 recruiting class on Wednesday night.
“I was pretty surprised,” DeWalt told 406mtsports.com about getting a call and an offer from the Griz. “I kind of forgot about everything that was. Like, I forgot about the opportunity. It’s always been a dream of mine. It caught me off guard. I was really surprised. I got butterflies immediately. I knew that was the decision I needed to make was to stay home.”
At 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, DeWalt said the Griz project him as a wide receiver playing in the slot. That was one of three positions he starred at for the Spartans in his lone season with them. He was named a second-team all-state defensive back, an honorable mention all-state kick returner and a second-team all-conference wide receiver.
Wide receiver is a position where DeWalt could potentially showcase the speed that helped him finish eighth in the 300-meter hurdles at the Class AA state track meet as a junior. It’s also a position that’s mostly new to him since he didn’t play there until this past fall.
“Jace has an extremely high ceiling,” said Sentinel head coach Dane Oliver, a former Griz wide receiver from 2000-03. “He’s got what you look for in a football player. He’s got speed. It’s just a matter of him transitioning. He’s pretty raw as a football player."
DeWalt finished his senior season with 36 catches for 538 receiving yards with four touchdown catches, all tops among Sentinel's wide receivers..
“He reminds me of Mitch Roberts, which we’ve seen the good spring Mitch had," Oliver said, referencing the current Griz wide receiver and former Sentinel quarterback. "Mitch didn’t play receiver in high school, but I’m making that comparison because everything’s new.
"Understanding coverages, understanding route running, that’s where I saw the biggest improvements for Jace. He has an amazing ability of body awareness. He can stretch the field vertically but also can go from point A to point B quickly in and out of breaks. That’s where you see flashes of that quick-twitch ability you seek. He has that unique ability, which is tough to teach.”
DeWalt recognizes that he has a long way to develop since he’s only played two years of varsity football. He didn’t play football as a freshman at Hellgate, and his sophomore year was the season Hellgate didn’t field a varsity team. He played varsity football his junior year for a winless Hellgate team and his senior year at Sentinel.
“Before Tech, the main goal coming into Sentinel and playing football was to stay here and play for the Griz,” DeWalt said. “It’s kind of been a goal of mine. It’s been a lifelong dream to play for the Griz. I immediately called my parents (after the Griz offered) and let them know. I got back home from track that day, and we talked it out. We decided right away that I had to take this. I had to take this offer. It was something I couldn’t pass up.”
DeWalt was free to flip from Montana Tech to the Griz because NAIA schools don’t require recruits to sign a National Letter of Intent that binds them to that institution.
DeWalt is a Bowling Green, Ohio, native who moved to Missoula with his family when he was in first grade. They’ve been Griz fans ever since, he said.
“This opportunity means everything,” DeWalt said. “Seeing how Missoula embraces the football team, it’s pretty special. Now that I’m part of it, it’s surreal. It hasn’t really hit me yet. I’m excited to stay home and play for the Griz. It’s pretty amazing.”