MISSOULA — Montana tight end Colin Bingham could’ve graduated this past year.

That would’ve opened the door for the fifth-year senior to potentially grad transfer or end his football playing early as he works toward a career as a doctor.

Bingham decided to take more classes at Montana, adding minors in psychology and biology. Along with his major in health and human performance, he feels those will benefit him as he chases medical school.

The Missoula native has unfinished business on the field as he gets to play a final season for the team he grew up loving and with the teammates who’ve been a second family to him. They’re the ones who’ve kept him motivated over the years, the past two as the Grizzlies’ starting tight end.

“They’re the best friends I’ve ever had,” Bingham said ahead of Montana’s homecoming game against Idaho State at 1 p.m. Saturday in Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

“They’re some of the best dudes I’ve ever known. No matter what the coaches think about you, no matter what the fans think about you, no matter what anyone else thinks about you, they have your back and they’re your biggest fans. I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to play football with. They’re incredible.”

Montana coach Bobby Hauck has been impressed with how Bingham has grown and matured. He’s known him longer than just the two years coaching him.

Hauck has known him since he was 5 years old and was an outdoorsy, energetic kid on a bicycle. He and Bingham’s dad, a former Griz football player, have been friends and their families have known each other for a long time.

“He was hell on wheels as a kid,” Hauck said with a laugh. “I thought he was more probably inclined to become a biker or something like that rather than a medical school student. But that looks like the path he’s on.

“I think it’s pretty admirable that that’s his vocation.”

Father’s footsteps

Bingham grew up around football. He’s the son of Guy Bingham, a former Montana offensive lineman who went on to a 14-year NFL career and is in the Grizzly Athletics Hall of Fame.

The 6-foot-3, 248-pound Bingham never felt pushed into football. It was a sport he enjoyed and his dad provided insight into the behind-the-scenes stuff it takes to be a successful player.

“My dad likes that I play football, but it’s always been something I’ve really enjoyed ever since growing up playing flag football at Fort Missoula in second grade,” Bingham said. “Those were some of the best times of my life. Ever since then, I’ve been in love with the game.”

Bingham starred as a blocking tight end at Missoula Big Sky for head coach Matt Johnson and was on the team that made the State AA semifinals in 2014 with his dad as an assistant coach.

“He’s the best high school blocker I’ve ever seen. Every single block, he had the guy 10 yards down field and then on his back," said Johnson, who added that the three-sport standout in football, basketball and track still holds the school’s power clean record in the weight room.

“He’s an all-around great kid. I couldn’t ask for more out of a student-athlete. He’s the type of person you want your own kids to model after with just how good of a kid he is. I can’t say how good his character is.”

Similar to high school, Bingham has primarily been a blocker for Montana but has mixed in time as a pass catcher. He’s totaled 47 receptions for 514 yards and seven touchdowns in 35 career games for the Griz.

Like his dad, who found longevity in the NFL as a long snapper, Bingham is the Grizzlies’ backup long snapper and plays on the shield on punts. On the basketball court, he averaged a double-double every other game in his senior year of high school as he dominated the paint, like his dad, an all-league center in Washington in the 1970s.

“He could’ve played at the Frontier level, but his mind was determined,” Big Sky boys basketball coach Bryan Ferriter said. “I think deep down inside he was proud of his father and wanted to play football.”

Developing chemistry

Ferriter recalls thinking Bingham would make a good doctor when he had him in his chemistry class as a junior.

He saw how Bingham exceled with the math-based and abstract concepts as a self-learner who could not only solve problems but was able to communicate how he figured out the answer.

“Like how his dad is the longest-tenured Grizzly football player in the NFL, I said what Colin’s dad was to football, Colin will be to the medical field,” Ferriter offered. “To steal a line from the Boston area, Colin’s ‘wicked smaht.’”

In addition to the brains, Ferriter recognized how the soft side of a smiling, friendly Bingham would work well in dealing with people on a daily basis.

“In the medical profession, to be a healer, you have to have good bedside manner, and he has a gentle nature to him,” Ferriter said. “I’m sure he has a game day face, but he also has a nice smile and wants to interact with you in a playful way. If you have an ailment and he came in the room, I’m sure you’d feel better. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, and he’s accessible.”

Bingham is a guy who Montana players, like sophomore receiver Mitch Roberts and sophomore tight end Bryson Deming, enjoy being around. Roberts is a Missoula Sentinel grad who got to compete against Bingham in high school.

“I’ve always known him as a great competitor,” Roberts said. “Then you get to be his teammate and you find out he’s a pretty big goofball. He’s a funny guy, always cracking good jokes. He’s a good guy to be around. He’s a great senior leader.”

Deming echoed Roberts with a similar sentiment about Bingham, who enjoys watching Seinfeld.

“He’s a very silly guy, makes you laugh a lot,” Deming said. “But he is one of the hardest workers you’ve ever met. Me, personally, he’s helped me out a ton since I’ve been here. He’s taken me in and taught me everything I know. I’ve learned everything from him. I’ve learned a lot from him. I can’t thank him enough.”

Hauck has noticed Bingham's amiable nature, too, and how he can have people in stitches.

“He’s a guy I enjoy every day,” Hauck said. “He’s a great dude. He’s fun to be around. He’s got a good sense of humor. His teammates give him a hard time. He gives it right back.”

For Johnson, Bingham's high school football coach, he saw that personable side when Bingham and Montana track athlete Alex Mustard would return to Big Sky to assist with the Special Olympics.

“They’d say how they wanted to help out and stay involved,” Johnson said. “I think he’s a guy young kids look up to because he does things right.”

Evolving role

Bingham came to Montana as an H-back in Bob Stitt’s offense, playing more of a receiving role than his natural spot as a blocking tight end.

He had a big freshman season, pulling down 28 catches for 332 yards and four touchdowns. All of those marks are still single-season highs for him.

When Hauck took over following the 2017 season, Bingham moved to tight end, a position Hauck reintroduced. The physical play of the position and the leadership of being an upperclassman are what Bingham has tried to provide for the Griz and what he hopes to be remembered for when his playing time is up.

“I personally wanted to be one of the more physical guys on the field,” Bingham said of this season. “I think there’s a lot of work to be done there all the time. So far, I think our tight end group has been pretty consistent with our play, which is good.

“Then I wanted to be more of a leader. I know that’s a constant process. Just working to be more vocal and be consistent day in, day out. It’s been going well so far.”

Bingham’s move back to tight end has meant less pass catching and more blocking, especially last year as the Griz needed help with a young group of offensive linemen.

“Colin’s a hard worker, a guy that loves the Montana Grizzlies and gives everything he has for his teammate,” Hauck said.

The lack of stats isn’t a bother to Bingham, whose focus is on doing whatever is needed to help the Griz win. The one thing he hasn’t accomplished that he’d like to before his time is up is to help get Montana into the playoffs for the first time since 2015, his redshirt year.

“Growing up in Missoula, I learned what the expectations were of Griz football; it’s conference championship every single year and making a run in the playoffs,” Bingham said. “Obviously, the teams I’ve been involved with haven’t achieved that yet.

“That’s definitely the No. 1 goal for our team this year. We’re working toward it. We’ve got another big step this Saturday, so looking forward to it.”

Academic achiever

A high-achieving student going back to high school, Bingham came to Montana planning to become a physical therapist. While he exceled in high school, he came to enjoy learning more in college when he got to take classes that fascinated and engaged him.

Bingham found an interest in health and medicine when he took courses on anatomy, physiology and immunology. That set him on the path in which he’s looking to become a doctor, either in cardiology or emergency medicine.

“They were really in-depth looks at human physiology and the mechanisms that govern it. That got me super psyched on health and medicine,” said Bingham, who’s taking a sports nutrition class that he’s found applicable to being in good shape for football.

In addition to the on-field success, Bingham has exceled off the field with a 3.93 grade-point average. He’s been an Academic All-Big Sky selection each of the past three seasons.

Even more prestigious, Bingham was awarded the President’s Award this past spring for posting a 4.0 GPA, the top among all student-athletes at Montana. He's also earned the Paul Ricci Memorial Football Scholarship and the GSA License Plate Scholarship to help pay for his schooling.

Bingham knows getting into medical school is a competitive proposition, and he knows he may have to leave the state of Montana to do that.

No matter how his time in a Grizzly uniform ends, his successful work in the classroom at Montana has him set up for a bright future.

“It’s been good,” Bingham said. “I’ve enjoyed it, and I’ve definitely utilized my scholarship funding for school to the fullest.”

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Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at frank.gogola@missoulian.com.

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