KALISPELL — As the FCS national championship draws near, anticipation continues to build and former Montana football player Sean Goicoechea is one of many who can’t wait for the big game.
"It's long overdue," Goicoechea told MTN Sports. "They have had a great program obviously for years and years and years. They've gone through this slump that I can't really explain, but it is definitely long overdue. It's the result of a lot of hard work by coach (Bobby) Hauck and his crew.
Goicoechea, a Stevensville native, played safety for the Griz and was an instrumental part of the team that won the program’s first national championship in 1995. He sees parallels to this year's squad.
"This team is very similar because it's what I'll call player-developed," said Goicoechea. "There are a lot of superstars on both the ’95 (team) and this team; but if you look across the board, the people contributing are those people who are player-developed, meaning they're good athletes that have made improvements throughout the year. They've gelled as a team and that's why I think they've made the run that they're making."
And that run wasn’t exactly something even the most die-hard Griz fans saw coming after the initial results to start the season, including a loss to Northern Arizona on Sept. 23.
"Fans tend to get a little short-minded these days. We all want instant success and when we don't get it everybody gets mad," said Goicoechea. "So after NAU, everybody's calling for heads. But the reality is that it takes time for these programs to bond and develop.
"And if the fan base would stay with them and stay behind them like the Grizzly fan base has, it just culminates in what we saw two weekends ago down there, where the 12th man was palpable in the stadium that day. You could just feel it."
As for what Goicoechea thinks it will take for the Griz to win their first national title since 2001?
"It's that bond, it's that brotherhood, it's that believing in one another from the coaches right on down to even the scout team players," said Goicoechea. "If you don't have that you're never going to be able to win a game like this. So I think they have it, we'll see if they can pull it off.
"I think they can if they play well and limit the turnovers. Whether they win it or lose it, I think that brotherhood will exist, that bond will exist, and they'll have the luxury of that for the rest of their lives just like we did from our ’95 team."
Goicoechea's own bond with the Grizzlies will continue next year as his son, Kash, who recently wrapped up his senior football season at Kalispell Glacier, has committed to play at Montana.
But now the Griz will have the chance to replicate the triumph of that 1995 team when they battle the South Dakota State Jackrabbits on Jan. 7 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, with a chance to bring home the third national title in program history.