MISSOULA — Kalispell Glacier senior Drew Deck became close friends with current Montana Grizzly wide receiver Gabe Sulser as a kid.
Both of their fathers coached on the same football staff at Billings Senior, so the two of them and their siblings spent time together, like playing backyard football before the Decks moved to Kalispell.
Deck and Sulser stayed in contact over the years and only got to play against each other once. That was when Sulser’s Broncs beat Glacier 37-21 in Deck’s varsity debut in 2017 on their way to winning their second consecutive State AA title.
Fifteen years since Deck’s family moved from Billings, he and Sulser will finally be teammates next season. Deck committed to the Montana football team as a wide receiver in the 2020 recruiting class on Tuesday.
“It’s fun to get the opportunity to play with him here in the future,” Deck said. “We talked about it a little bit. We’re both pretty excited that we get to play together because we never got to in high school. We haven’t gotten to play together since backyard football growing up there in Billings. So, it’ll be fun.”
The connection between Deck and Sulser is more than just their friendship. They’re similar in their build and what they can bring to the football field, according to Glacier head coach Grady Bennett, a former Griz quarterback in the late 1980s.
Sulser is 5-foot-9 and 161 pounds, while Deck is 5-9 and 155 pounds. Deck will again be playing wide receiver, cornerback and punt/kick returner for Glacier, the same positions Sulser starred at in high school.
“It’s unfair and I hate to compare them because each kid is his own individual, but he is a lot like Gabe Sulser,” Bennett said. “He’s just an all-around player like Gabe. He’s just an athlete that you’ve got to get the ball in his hands as many times as possible, and you have to be creative to do it. He’s just a multi-faceted athlete that allows you to do a lot of special things. Guys like that don’t come along very often. It’s pretty neat to have one as a coach.
“I’m excited that they get to be teammates now. Longtime family friends and now they get to be on the same football team, so that’s pretty cool.”
Deck will come to Montana expecting to suit up as a slot receiver. It’s a position where short-stature players have thrived over the years for the Griz.
Deck will bring the hands and speed he used to catch 55 passes for 781 yards and seven touchdowns in 10 games as a junior, according to MaxPreps.com. He’ll end up being a three-year varsity starter for Glacier and comes into his senior year with 80 catches for 1,034 yards and nine touchdowns in addition to 14 rushes for 71 yards and one touchdown.
Deck has also flashed his speed on the track. He won the state title in 300-meter hurdles in May and was on the title-winning 400-relay team in 2018 with current Grizzly Drew Turner.
“Hopefully I can bring some speed to the offense,” said Deck, who credited Bennett and his dad, Glacier's offensive coordinator, with helping him become the player he is. “The goal is just to be a nice, reliable target. When the (Griz) coaches were talking to me, they just said they loved my characteristics like the speed and the hands. Kind of just build on that.”
With the Grizzlies’ interest in Deck on offense, he was recruited by offensive coordinator Timm Rosenbach and wide receivers coach Brent Pease. He jumped at the opportunity to play for the Griz just days after he was offered, accepting a scholarship that’ll cover full tuition and fees.
It was a dream fulfilled for Deck, a lifelong Griz fan, except for a brief stint as a Cats fan while wanting to be different from everyone else in his family. But when he moved to Kalispell and started attending games, his love for UM grew.
“Growing up, always going to the Griz games, I was a big fan and always wanted to go there,” Deck said. “I really love the coaching staff they have there. Had a good relationship with them.
“Just kind of grew up wanting to always be a Grizzly. So, that’s exciting I got the opportunity. It was an easy decision for me. Once the Griz started talking to me, that’s where my focus was.”
Deck also had offers from Dickinson State, Montana Tech and Carroll College. He remained in contact with former Griz coach Bob Stitt, went to a camp at FBS Texas State and was told that if they offered him at all, it wouldn't be until after his senior season.
Bennett thought Deck would end up at one of those NAIA schools because of his small stature. He has been impressed, though, with how strong Deck is in the weight room for his size, maxing at 345 pounds in the squat, 250 in the power clean and 210 in the bench press.
Bennett is excited to be proven wrong and see Deck get a shot at the FCS level.
“I knew he had the competitiveness, the leadership, the football knowledge,” Bennett said. “He’s a coach’s kid, so he has great football IQ and football savvy. I knew he had all those things, but I didn’t know if his stature would allow him to be a Division I athlete. For sure a great NAIA player. But I wasn’t sure if the Griz or Cats would take a shot at him being so small.
“It’s good to see them understand that he can play. There’s a legacy of great Grizzly slot receivers that have been short of stature but big of heart and have had great careers. I think Drew can do that.”