GREAT FALLS -- Imagine, if you will, that you’re a center on a Class AA high school football team, lining up across from the Great Falls High defensive line.
Across from you is Ethan Deroche, an all-state defensive tackle and a two-time state wrestling champion at heavyweight.
“Ethan is just a great football player on both sides of the ball,” said GFH coach Mark Samson. “He's made some tremendous plays in the first three games at defensive tackle. You know, I do believe he's one of the best defensive tackles in the state and he loves the game.”
Deroche brings the toughness and winning mindset he exhibits on the wrestling mats to the football field.
“Wrestling helps with hand placement and just being really physical and then it helps build that mental toughness,” Deroche said. “So you just got to keep pushing through when you're tired and when you're hurt at times, you got to keep pushing through it because life ain’t easy."
Back to the hypothetical Class AA center. If he’s not intimidated by Deroche, he just has to look directly to his left. Lining up at nose guard is where you’ll find Elijah Davis. He’s also a two time-state wrestling champion at 205 pounds. Davis is making his return to football as a senior after taking his two seasons off to focus on wrestling.
He’d had coaches and teammates gently recruiting him for years, and figured he’d give football another shot.
“All the coaches have been really polite to me and to ask me about playing football and stuff, but the person who really did it for me was (linebacker) Ben Held, who graduated last year,” Davis said. “He told me how he wanted the wrestle all of high school and he chose never to do it. And then he regretted it. So I figured I wanted to play football and I stopped after freshman year, so why not do it senior year?”
Samson was elated when Davis told him he was coming out for football as a senior.
“We’ve worked on Elijah for a couple of years and I don't know if I had any influence, but I know a couple of people in our school convinced him, they thought it'd be good for him,” Samson said “And he really loves playing the game. He's helped us out tremendously at the nose guard position.”
Davis was a little rusty on the gridiron after a few years away, but his wrestling practice partner Deroche helped him along.
“He has helped a lot, he's a good example for what to do and what not to do. And I learned a lot of basic techniques and stuff from him,” Davis said. “A lot of the hand work is very translatable, but you don't just fight pressure, sometimes you have to go with it, which is a little weird for me. But I'll get used to it.”
Samson believes his defensive line is among the best in the state. And it starts with those two up front.
“One thing about them, they're winners,” Samson said. “They understand hard work and how to grind every day to get what you want to get done. And that's what programs like mine need. We needed a lot of kids like that. And so we're blessed and we're lucky to have both of them right now.”
But what really sets Deroche and Davis apart is the example they set for other teammates and other students.
"But those two kids are special kids in this school. I love them to death. I haven't gotten to know Elijah very much because I haven't coached him for two years, but he's got high lofty goals for himself educationally. He wants to be a doctor someday,” Samson said. “And Ethan wants to go play college football, and he will go play college football somewhere.”
At 1-2 on the season and coming off a canceled game against Belgrade, both Davis and Deroche will have to play big roles on Friday against Billings West (4-0).
“We have to take these opportunities to be the best and take advantage of all the extra time to prepare,” Deroche said. “The people who are banged up on our team can heal and be ready for West next week.”