MISSOULA — Elias Dewaters was born in South Africa where he lived for most of the first two years of his life. But DeWaters’ affinity for the Griz started at a young age, serving as some of his earliest memories from his first years living in Missoula after being adopted.
“I just found this picture of me the other day when I was four or five in a Griz jersey,” Dewaters said. “It’s just crazy to think I’m going to be wearing that jersey soon.”
The Missoula Sentinel standout gave his verbal commitment to Montana head coach Bobby Hauck just a few days after fielding his first scholarship offer. He is the 11th commitment for UM’s Class of 2019, including the seventh from the state of Montana.
“It’s been crazy, so unreal honestly,” Dewaters said as he sat in the Sentinel cafeteria on Thursday morning, wearing a tan and maroon Griz hat and a smile that stretched ear to ear. “I didn’t really see it coming and I’m just so excited that all the hard work and all the coaching I’ve taken and all the help from my parents and everyone who is close to me has helped me get to this position to play college football.”
Missoula Sentinel head coach Dane Oliver — a former Griz who played his senior season as a wide receiver under Hauck in 2003 — first started hearing about the athletic, shifty kid from Lolo when Dewaters was still in middle school.
Oliver contemplated moving the talented teenager up to the varsity and junior varsity as a freshman in 2015 but waited in an effort to let the 5-foot-10, now 175-pounder’s frame develop.
In the sixth game of his sophomore season, Dewaters showed the first flash of the skill that has helped him earn the reputation as one of the most elusive players in the state of Montana. In a wild shootout with Kalispell Glacier at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, Dewaters took a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown.
“I knew from the day he came to Sentinel that he was talented but when he did that, I knew he had a real chance,” Oliver said.
Dewaters battled injuries during his junior season but returned to full health to etch one of his signature moments as a Spartan. In the first round of the Class AA playoffs against crosstown rival and second-seeded Big Sky, Dewaters rushed 35 times for 172 yards to help Sentinel to a 26-6 upset win.
“He’s a spark plug player who plays with a ton of energy and passion,” Oliver said. “Any time you can see a kid fulfill his goals is awesome. It’s very rewarding as a coach.”
Dewaters earned Class AA honorable mention all-state honors as a junior after rushing for 907 yards and six touchdowns. He also caught 22 passes for 183 yards and a score.
Although Montana recruited Dewaters as an athlete on a partial scholarship, he said he likes what he’s seen in first-year Montana offensive coordinator Timm Rosenbach’s offense and the way the Griz throw to running backs. UM starting running back Adam Eastwood is fourth on the team with 24 catches through seven games.
“I love catching the ball out of the backfield,” Dewaters said. “It’s one of my favorite things, get out in space, put a couple moves on guys. I’ve been talking to (former Big Sky quarterback and current Griz freshman fullback) Levi Janacaro and he says he loves the offense as a running back so I think I’ll fit in pretty well.
“I love running back, love my position more than anything in the world. I’ll play where they put me and try my best wherever they put me. Slot wouldn’t be so bad or defense. But I would love running back.”
This season, Dewaters is averaging 5.4 yards per carry and has a career-long 72-yard touchdown run among his six scores on the ground. He has rushed for 702 yards while catching 19 passes for 276 yards and three more scores. He is also averaging 14.5 yards per punt return and had an 80-yard punt return for a score in Sentinel’s 28-14 win over Hellgate to clinch the Missoula city championship.
Sentinel is 4-4 and on the bubble of the Class AA playoff picture. The losses have been gut-wrenching. The Spartans lost 33-30 in overtime at Great Falls High, 34-31 on a blocked potential game-tying field goal to Kalispell Flathead at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, 39-38 to Butte in overtime on a Bulldog two-point conversion and 34-28 to Billings West last week.
The Spartans play Helena High (6-2) in a game flush with playoff ramifications Friday night.
“We just have to finish,” Dewaters said. “The fact that we’ve had so many close loses shows that we should really be there with the top teams in the state and up there close to the one or two seed. IF we can finish, maybe we can make a run in the playoffs.”
In recent years, Oliver has developed a football program that has consistently produced Division I talent. Byron Rollins is currently a defensive lineman at Montana State. Gabe Peppenger spent two years kicking at MSU before transferring to Montana in the most recent off-season. Mitch Roberts is a redshirt freshman wide receiver for the Griz while Nick Germer is currently redshirting as a wide receiver as well.
“I saw all these guys who put in the work and it paid off for them so I thought I could do the same,” Dewaters said. “It’s definitely very helpful knowing what they’ve gone through, what they did, who they talked to, the work they did.”
Dewaters also plays basketball and runs track. He set the meet record in the triple jump at the Greg Rice city championship last spring.
His coach in track and field is Craig Mettler, a former standout defensive tackle for Hauck’s Griz who played his last football season in 2008. Dewaters credits his former Griz coaches for helping him find his next opportunity.
“They’ve helped me a lot,” Dewaters said. “Coach O has been on everything. He’s set up meetings, has helped me get to this next level more than anyone else, fighting for me. Him and Mettler have told me that you’ve gotta work hard, put the work in and you’ll see the payoff.”
Dewaters joins Ryder Meyer of Fairfield, Ryan Tirrell of Missoula Loyola, Noah Ambuehl of Great Falls Central, Garrison Poetzl of Billings Senior, Trevin Gradney of Billings West and Kris Brown of Bozeman as Montana’s in-state commits thus far.
“That’s amazing,” Dewaters said. “Nobody else gets a chance to be a part of this class, Bobby coming back, all the hype around it. I just think it’s really great. We have a lot of dudes coming out from Montana, a lot of great athletes. It’s a great class and I’m going to have fun getting to play with those guys instead of against them.”
The group will be a part of Hauck’s first full recruiting class since 2009, the last season the Griz officially won a Big Sky Conference championship.
“It’s going to be really cool to be a part of that reincarnation of the Griz, get back to what we were when I was seven or eight, that hard-nosed football they played,” Dewaters “I think the guys coming in this year and the guys above us, we want to get back to that style of football. If we can get back to that, the Griz are once again going to be that great, elite team.”
Elias Dewaters and Dane Oliver on ESPN Missoula
Photos courtesy of Dave Peppenger. All Rights Reserved.