GREAT FALLS — Most players learned they were selected to play in the Montana East-West Shrine game on Christmas morning, when rosters for the summer showcase are released to the public.
A few others are called up as alternates in the weeks and months before camp begins.
And then there’s Big Sandy’s Kody Strutz, who got a call on Monday. A day after the East team started practice in Great Falls.
“So I went and lifted in the morning, came home, drank my protein shake, and went and sat on my butt and started playing some X-Box and had my phone sitting right next to me,” Strutz recalls. “And the next thing I know, I look over and someone’s calling my phone from a number I didn’t recognize. So I pick it up and it's one of the coaches. And they asked me if I had my football stuff ready. I told him no and he told me to find it because I was going to play in the Shrine game.”
After getting packed and making the trip from Big Sandy, Strutz reported to practice that same day - three hours after receiving the phone call.
“It took me about an hour to get packed because my mind was just in shambles. I couldn't figure it out. I was like, ‘I got to tell my dad. I got to tell all these kids,’” Strutz said. “But I got ready in about an hour and was on my way down, made it for a little bit of film, sat down with the coaches. They went over some plays with me and then went right into my first practice”
The roster spot opened up after Billings West guard Jaxan Tucker dislocated his shoulder during practice on Monday. Tucker was disappointed, but never considered going home. He’ll still be on the sidelines this weekend, supporting his teammates.
“It’s such an honor to be out here and be invited to play out here. I just couldn't pass up the opportunity and I'm still part of this team,” Tucker said. “My time with these kids, it's something that I'll never get again. A once a lifetime opportunity. So I'm going to enjoy it to my fullest ability and spend some good time out here. I just keep my boys accountable. Making sure they're fired up, you know, making sure that they got that energy out there playing for me, you know?”
Tucker has signed with the Montana Grizzlies, and is sitting out mostly as a precaution to not jeopardize his health before reporting to fall camp in Missoula. His playing days are far from over. But it marks a final football game for Strutz. After missing the 6-Man state title game with a broken collarbone, he recovered in time for the 6-Man All-Star game earlier this month.
He plans to attend MSU for academics, but was staying in shape just in case he got a call to extend his career just one more game.
I wasn't really prepared to play another football game this week and got the call. And I was just so grateful for it. You know, these guys are great,” Strutz said. “They've been helping me out, the coaches and the players. They’ve been so patient with us 6-Man players helping us out. I’m just so grateful for this opportunity.”
The 76th Montana East-West Shrine Game will be broadcast and streamed live across Montana Television Network platforms on Saturday.
The game is scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. from Naranche Stadium in Butte. The telecast begins at 6 with a fundraiser telethon to benefit Shriners Children's Hospital of Spokane, Washington.