MISSOULA — As Montana prepares to host Furman in the FCS quarterfinals Friday night at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, there will be a familiar face on the opposing sidelines — Paladins offensive coordinator Justin Roper.
Roper, from Buford, Georgia, played quarterback for the Griz from 2009 to 2010 and got to play alongside the likes of Marc Mariani, Sam Gratton and Chase Reynolds under coach Bobby Hauck during their 2009 run to the national championship game.
"I really got to see the work ethic, the toughness, and the pride of being able to represent the school and the program with those guys," Roper said. "Because those are self-made guys, you know, and so they come in, they work for everything they get."
Not only did Roper play football under Hauck but he also had the opportunity to walk onto the basketball team and play for Wayne Tinkle.
"We would always pass each other, every other day, so it was always a running joke," said Roper. "I would always go to him, not quite serious, but it was like, 'Hey, Coach, when are you gonna let me play basketball?' He’d go, 'Hey, man, when are you gonna come out and play for us?'"
"We did that for five months, so I went up to Coach Hauck and asked him and he's like, 'I'm not opposed to it'. And so I went up and asked Coach Tinkle like, can I come play, for real? He goes, ‘yeah,’ so that's kind of how it started."
While excited to return to a place with so many fond memories, Roper knows this trip is strictly business and has let his players know it’ll be a hostile environment for Furman, which is located in Greenville, South Carolina.
"Our guys like that, it's fun. Our guys are a little bit weird that way. They kind of want it," said Roper. "Actually our team is built a lot like Montana's team. We're tough, physical, there's no one person that has to lead and star and all that stuff."
"We like to grind out wins. We're gritty. We talk a little bit you know, that's how we are, so it'll be a fun little aspect (of the) matchup. I think the most fun part is going up there trying to win."