Story by Montana Sports Information
MISSOULA – Back in December 2015, Montana football senior captain and Rhodes Scholarship finalist Derek Crittenden boarded a plane for New York City to attend the National Football Foundation’s William V. Campbell Trophy ceremony as a finalist for the “Academic Heisman” award.
This year, another Grizzly could get the chance to attend the same black tie event at the famed Waldorf Astoria hotel as one of the nation’s elite academic and athletic student-athletes.
But instead of being a finalist for the award celebrating the nation’s top academic seniors, this Montana quarterback in in the running for the award celebrating the nation’s top academic freshmen.
Gresch Jensen, a true freshman Grizzly QB out of Auburn Mountainview high school in Auburn, Wash., has been selected as a finalist for the 2016 NFF National High School Scholar-Athlete Awards, which will honor a student-athlete from each of the country’s five regions as the “best and the brightest for their accomplishments as athletes, scholars and citizens at the high school level.”
The 37 finalists for this prestigious award all graduated from high school in 2016 and are now playing college football. Out of those 37 finalists, five (one from each region) will be selected by a national committee and flown to New York to be recognized for their previous accomplishments in high school the week of Oct. 3 at the same ceremony Crittenden attended in 2015.
“The NFF Chapter Network continues to grow and excel, and their work this year has allowed us to identify these 37 exceptional high school scholar-athletes who have clearly established themselves among the best in the nation,” said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell in a press release.
Jensen was nominated by the King County/Seattle chapter of the NFF and has been selected as a top-five finalist from the western region out of a pool of more than 3,500 scholar-athletes nationwide. Criteria for recognition include, but are not limited to, academic achievement, athletic accomplishments, and community leadership.
In February, Jensen traveled from Auburn to Century Link Field in Seattle, home of the Seahawks, where he was recognized as one of the region’s top contenders. In a release from the NFF on Tuesday, Jensen was named one of five finalists from the west region that will be in the running for a trip to New York.
“Just to be even mentioned with those guys up there was such a surreal feeling. I was just so honored to get it back then, and to get a national nomination now, I’m just lost for words,” says Jensen.
“My thought has always been to work hard and treat people right. That’s how my parents raised me. My sister has never had a B in her life. It’s a lot to live up to, but hopefully, I’m doing a good job with football and school.”
Jensen, who graduated from Auburn Mountainview with a 3.85 GPA and plans to major in business with a minor in psychology at UM, is in good company as one of the five finalists from the west. Other student-athletes from the region have matriculated at Stanford, Oregon, Nebraska, and Phoenix College (Ariz.).
For Montana head coach Bob Stitt, Jensen is a shining example of the direction he wants to take the Grizzlies both on the field and in the classroom.
“It’s a great honor for Gresch and a great honor for our program,” said Stitt. “This is where we’re going to go with our recruiting and exactly the type of student-athletes that we want at the University of Montana.”
Jensen isn’t the only Griz freshman to be honored by the NFF as a National High School Scholar-Athlete. In 2005, former Montana linebacker and current Los Angeles Rams defensive backs coach Brandon Fischer won the award.
Other notable winners include NFL pro-bowl quarterback and Heisman award runner-up Andrew Luck, the 2011 winner of the “academic Heisman”, Andrew Rodriguez who played for the United States Military Academy at West Point, and former Tennessee quarterback and retired Colorado Rockies first basemen, Todd Helton.
Highlights of this year’s group of 37 finalists include a 4.1 average GPA, 14 finalists attending FBS schools, nine finalists (including Jensen) attending FCS schools and six finalists coming out of Ivy League schools.
In addition to being a high school academic standout, Jensen was a three-year starter for the Lions. In that time, he passed for 7,063 yards, ran for 1,485 yards and threw 73 touchdowns. He was named team captain and MVP of his team in both 2014 and 2015 and was named to numerous state and local all-star teams.
West Region Nominees
• Kelly Blake from Loyola High School in Los Angeles, Calif. Nominated by the NFF Los Angeles Chapter and currently playing at Stanford University.
• Brady Breeze from Central Catholic High School in Portland, Ore. Nominated by the NFF Portland (Ore.) Chapter and currently playing at the University of Oregon.
• Johansen “JoJo” Domann from Pine Creek High School in Colorado Springs, Colo. Nominated by the NFF Colorado Chapter and currently playing at the University of Nebraska.
• Gresch Jensen from Auburn Mountainview High School in Auburn, Wash. Nominated by the NFF King County/Seattle Chapter and currently playing at the University of Montana.
• Matthew Mitchell from Joy Christian School in Glendale, Ariz. Nominated by the NFF Valley of the Sun (Ariz.) Chapter and currently playing at Phoenix College (Ariz.).