Jaxon Lee has a very simple answer when asked what he remembers most about going to Montana football games as a kid.
“What stood out to me when I was little was the Griz not losing,” Lee said. “You’d go to a Griz home game and they wouldn’t lose. … I remember wearing my Chase Reynolds jersey every game and painting my face and never watching the Griz lose.”
Now, the former eight-man star will follow in the footsteps of Reynolds, a Drummond native who forged a career as one of the most prolific running backs in the history of the state of Montana, prep or collegiate. Lee hopes to help the Grizzlies return to those glory days, a run that saw Reynolds rush for more than 4,000 yards and score a school-record 52 touchdowns to help Montana to four straight Big Sky titles and a 31-1 record in league play between 2006 and 2009.
Lee, a senior-to-be, transferred to Missoula Sentinel in January and will play his final year of high school there. And shortly after earning an offer from UM, the best player on the two-time defending Class C state champions announced his commitment to the Griz via Twitter on June 25.
Lee, a receiver and defensive back, joins Hamilton quarterback Carson Rostad and Kalispell Glacier receiver Drew Deck as the first commits in the Class of 2020 for the Griz.
“It feels awesome,” Lee said. “Having the other commits too, other big Montana kids commit, up there with those guys, I think that it’s kind of a big deal for all of us.”
Lee also had an offer from Montana State, making him the latest player to pick the Griz over the Cats in the recruiting battles that have raged across the state since Bobby Hauck came back to Missoula with an eye towards making the Griz the clear No. 1 option for in-state recruits once again.
A source close to Lee confirmed that Hauck countered Montana State head coach Jeff Choate’s offer of a partial scholarship with a full ride for a player that earned all-state honors as a junior at wide receiver, safety, kick returner and punt returner.
Lee has seen both sides of the rivalry since transferring to Sentinel. In the Class of 2019, Spartans running back Elias DeWaters elected to stay home and sign with the Griz, while Rylan Ortt went east to play safety for the ‘Cats.
Lee grew up in Belgrade, right outside of Bozeman. But he grew up a Griz fan thanks to his grandfather and uncles, who had season tickets at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
That connection made all the difference when it came time to make a decision.
“I thought I was going to be a Cat for quite some time,” Lee said. “I kind of counted the Griz out, but as soon as I got my offer from the Cats, I told (UM offensive coordinator) coach (Timm) Rosenbach from the Griz, and he invited me over the next day. We took a walk through the tunnel, and I remember I was like, ‘This is what I’ve always wanted. I’ve wanted to be a Grizzly.’”
Lee said he wasn’t sure what he wanted to study at Montana, nor what side of the ball the Griz coaches would put him on. He played both sides of the ball during Montana’s individual camp last month.
As a former eight-man player, he has experience playing all over the field. Lee won back-to-back state titles in eight-man for Flint Creek (the new Drummond-Phillipsburg co-op) before transferring to Sentinel.
“Honestly, I feel like there’s a stereotype that eight-man doesn’t have the talent or something, which I don’t necessarily think is true,” Lee said. “There was quite a few studs, they were just more spread out, I think. Football is football, I mean, eight-man only had three less guys on the field. Nothing’s really different.”
Lee did say that the move to Sentinel was driven by wanting to be in a bigger environment, and he’s excited to play his last season of high school football on a bigger stage.
“I’m looking forward to almost everything,” Lee said. “I’m excited for the wider field, the more guys. I’m excited for the bus trips, the student sections, that’ll be sweet. I just feel like it’s a high school experience like in a movie or something. It’s about to be fun.”
And after that, who knows? After locking down his recruiting process, Lee is thinking about even bigger goals in the future.
“My goal since I was little was always play for the Griz, play in the NFL, be like Chase and (former Havre standout) Marc Mariani,” Lee said. “So I guess that’s kind of what I want to do, at least have a shot, and I feel like Bobby Hauck is one of those guys that could give me a good opportunity.”