MISSOULA — On the football field, Dayton Bay had to trust his left tackle, Zach Hangas, who was blocking his blindside.
On the golf course, Hangas blindsided Bay, his quarterback at Missoula Sentinel, with a question during the summer of 2019 because he trusted Bay.
“I randomly asked him if it was possible to play football, and he thought I was kidding,” Hangas recalled this week. “Dayton’s one of my best friends, so I felt most comfortable. He was surprised by it. He asked me if I was serious. I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ve been considering it.’”
For Hangas, it wasn’t just starting up football his junior year. It was getting into the sport in addition to also continuing to golf for Sentinel in the fall, making him a four-sport athlete who’ll also be a four-year hockey player and four-year baseball player when he leaves high school.
Splitting his talents between two sports didn’t hamper either him or the Spartans, whether he was chipping golf shots or collecting pancake blocks on the football field. He played his role in helping lead both teams to state championships, a first this century for each sport at Sentinel.
“What I’m going to remember the most is my teammates and coaches that helped me through this process and the memories that were made,” Hangas said. “I can’t choose which one is my favorite because they had their different things I liked about them.”
On the football field, Hangas started all 10 games at left tackle for Sentinel, which completed the first undefeated season in the school’s 57-year history and won its first state title since 1972. It was his first year starting and his first year playing offensive line after being a backup defensive lineman last year, and the move bumped Dylan Rollins, the versatile senior getting FBS offers, inside to guard so Sentinel could get its five best linemen on the field.
Before his question to Bay, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Hangas hadn’t played football for two years. He had decided to focus on golf his first two years in high school because he wasn’t having as much fun with football after playing Missoula Youth Football from third grade through eighth grade.
Heading into his junior year, he kept hearing from friends, including Rollins and fellow offensive lineman Parker Lindsay, both of whom he played with in MYF, that he should join the team.
“All my friends were on that football team, and I started to miss it more and more,” Hangas conceded.
He couldn’t give up on his golf teammates just to play football. His dedication paid off as he helped lead Sentinel to its first state golf title since May 1999. He earned all-state honors for the first time in his four years golfing and three years on varsity, finishing in 15th place.
Hangas had to earn his way into the varsity starting lineup because it takes him time each year to get his scores in line after being preoccupied all summer with baseball instead of playing in offseason golf tournaments. Midway through the season, which lasts only several weeks, he found his groove to move from the No. 6 golfer into the top five who count in team scoring.
“I wasn’t going to leave the golf team because I knew we had something special,” Hangas said.
To make Hangas’ question to Bay a reality, he had to meet with football coach Dane Oliver and golf coach Craig Matosich. They had to find a way to make sure he was getting in enough work so he would be ready and able to handle the rigors of dual competition at a high level.
The biggest challenges for Hangas were balancing practices and managing his time to get his homework done. He’d go to golf practice for about 45 minutes right after school and then head back to Sentinel for the rest of football practice.
The pandemic provided a silver lining for Hangas to balance the two sports. There were no two-day golf tournaments this year until divisionals, but even those didn’t include overnight stays, so he was able to attend more football practices than last year, when he missed Wednesday and Thursday for golf tournaments and had to return Friday for football games.
Hangas credited his ability to feel prepared for football to offensive line coach Pete Joseph, who spent extra time with him to get him caught up. He did extra film review on his own and got in extra golf on Saturday and Sunday when teammates invited him to the Missoula Country Club.
Oliver and Matosich credited Hangas’ open communication and time management skills as being key in making the two-sport experiment work.
“When you get high-level kids like Zach, it makes it so much easier to do and to play a premier position like left tackle,” Oliver said. “He’s very cerebral and has a tremendous work ethic and team-first approach. He’s a heck of an athlete too. He’s in a heck of a lot competitive situations and never gets rattled. He stays cool and keeps his composure.”
Matosich echoed those sentiments: “His greatest strength is the fact that he just doesn’t take anything too seriously. He is intent on what he’s doing without being too intense and getting too worked up and getting in his own head. He likes to have fun. He always has. The short-term memory is a good thing for him. He hits a bad shot, lets it go and keeps playing.
“I think that he has that ability within him to not get too worked up when he’s busy. He’s going to show up and do what he’s going to do to the best of his abilities and have fun doing it. Maybe the pressure or stress some other kids feel being that busy, he doesn’t have that. He’s a happy-go-lucky kid.”
Being prepared was one thing. Executing was another after swinging a golf club 70-plus times and then squatting in his stance for 60-plus plays on the football field. He actually had to do that on two occasions this year.
On the Friday of the two-day divisional golf tournament, he left Missoula at 6 a.m. to compete at Fairmont Hot Springs in Butte, golfed for 5 or so hours until about 4 p.m., left the golf course with his parents to head to Butte’s Naranche Stadium for a football game and got there right as Sentinel’s team bus was pulling up to the field.
The next week, he spent Thursday and Friday at the state golf tournament in Missoula. After Friday’s round Oct. 2, which concluded with a state title, he raced over to Missoula County Stadium for Sentinel’s game against crosstown rival Big Sky, the fourth and final football game that overlapped with the golf season.
“Just the mental strain of playing for a state championship on the golf course and then a football game, it’s a testament to who he is,” Oliver said.
Matosich added: “He’s a gamer. When he’s needed, he’s going to play well.”
Making this year extra special for Hangas was his parents and grandparents got to come to every game before the latter moved south for the winter. That had been the case in previous years, but the pandemic limited attendance this year. Luckily, Hangas’ brother Connor played football, even starting at center in the semifinals, giving his family extra tickets.
In attendance was his father, a Sentinel grad who also played both football and golf in high school in the mid-1980s, when the sports were split up between fall and spring. Hangas won the titles his father Tyler didn’t, having been on the state runner-up football team in 1984 and state runner-up golf team in 1987.
Hangas also has a state title on the ice, winning as a sophomore playing for the Missoula high school Bruins. He started hockey practice in early November, right around when the football playoff run began, going once or twice a week but only doing non-contact practice so he could stay as fresh as possible for football. He got two days off to celebrate the football state title before resuming full hockey practices three days a week this past Monday.
Hangas is still in search of a state title in baseball, his favorite sport and arguably his best. He’s played for the Missoula AA Mavericks the past two years as a pitcher and first baseman. He’s looking to play baseball in college, having been in contact with some college teams and preparing for upcoming showcase events.
It all makes for a hectic senior year playing four sports, and it might not have happened if he didn’t find a safe harbor in Bay to ask him a seemingly ordinary question that brought about extraordinary results.
“I enjoyed it all and wouldn’t change anything for it because I got to play two sports I love,” Hangas said. “Looking back at it, I have no regrets. It was just the time of my life.”
Pulling double duty
Hangas wasn’t the only athlete with area connections to play two sports in the fall. He just had the most team success.
His teammates on the football team, Camdin Dirnberger also played two sports. Dirnberger was the kicker for the football team and played soccer, being named a first-team all-conference player on the pitch, where he was a defender for a Spartans team that made the semifinals. He balanced both sports all four years of high school.
Hamilton senior Austin Drake also played both football and soccer. He was a second-team all-conference kicker and punter for the football team, which made the State A semifinals, and was a first-team all-conference soccer player.
Whitefish freshman Ryder Barinowski was also a football and soccer player. He handled kicks for the varsity football team and primarily played on junior varsity for soccer because the varsity squad, which won its third State A title in a row, was deep at defender, his position. Whitefish soccer coach John Lacey projects him to be a starter next year.
Billings Central senior Camden Capser, a Montana Grizzly football commit as a kicker, balanced both football and soccer. He was an all-state kicker for the football team that lost in the State A title game and a first-team all-state player for the soccer team that fell in the semifinals.
Seeley-Swan featured three girls who played volleyball and ran cross country: junior Sariah Maughan and sophomores Kyla Conley and Ava Thornsberry. All three finished in the top 18 at the State C cross country meet as the Blackhawks took second as a team, losing by one point to Manhattan Christian. Sariah Maughan placed sixth to earn all-state honors for the third time.
Sariah Maughan and Conley were on the Blackhawks team that won the 2019 state cross country title, and Maughan was the individual state champ in 2018 as a freshman while playing both sports. The volleyball team lost out in divisionals this year.