MISSOULA — The Montana Grizzlies are back in action this week in the second round of the FCS playoffs when they take on Delaware on Saturday.
A 10-1 season, a Big Sky Conference championship, and a win over Montana State have made 2023 a special run at UM, especially for homegrown products like Missoula native David Koppang.
"It's been fun. I think the whole team entirely has really just kind of bought into what we're trying to do," Koppang said. "And obviously you can tell. It's just been one heck of a year so far, and I'm really happy it's happening."
The product of Missoula Loyola walked on at UM in 2018 after a decorated high school career.
Injuries hampered Koppang to start his Griz career, but he overcame them as he adjusted and fit in at the college level.
Being a walk-on is something he's carried with pride, and Koppang's mantra at UM has been to never quit, no matter the obstacle.
"Once you start something, you finish it," Koppang said. "And like, how I see it is I committed here, that’s a commitment. I committed to the University of Montana. I didn't want to quit at all on this team. And then ... the relationships I made here with my friends and my teammates, that's one of the most important things to me. I love every single guy on this team. And so if I quit, I would never see those guys again. It's just not something I wanted to lose. And I just love football so much.
"It's meant a lot. I mean, you know, you hear all the stories about how walk-ons getting cut and not making a lot of teams. So I think in my position, it means a lot more to me, just because I was I was able to stay on the team finish it out. And you know, it means a lot, I think being a walk-on is something to hold on to kind of cherish that you've been a walk-on because not everyone can say they've been a walk-on and complete, it's five to six years of football. So that's cool."
That attitude has paid off for Koppang, who doesn't play much on defense but has been a staple on UM's special teams units where he's made an impact any chance he gets. Koppang has appeared in 38 games in his Griz career and has tallied 10 tackles and an interception.
"I've understood my role the entire time I've been here, and I think that's one of the main important aspects is that you understand your role, you understand the others," Koppang said. "So in my eyes, it's just supporting other people who are ahead of me and all that stuff. And it's kind of easy just giving them motivation, and having their back is pretty easy.
"I don't think it's really my mentality to take the field and just kind of coast. I feel like when you have chances to play and need to put your best foot forward and give 100% and work hard. Other than that, I mean coach (Bobby) Hauck, is one of the smartest and best special teams coaches in the nation, and knowing that and all that he knows, it's an honor to be able to play for someone like that. And he just makes it so much fun. It's a blast playing on special teams, actually, because we do so well. And it's just fun to be out there."
After his time with Montana is complete, Koppang is headed back to the classroom, just as a teacher this time.
He graduated with a degree in elementary education and is working on a master's in educational leadership.
"I definitely look at it as like you have a chance to give back to the community," Koppang said. "But more importantly, I see it as like you, the teacher, we have a chance to, as a leadership role again, you have the chance to push these kids in the right direction. You have a chance to be role models for future generations. Like how do you want these kids to be in the future? That's kind of how I see it. That's like you have that power to do. So it's kind of cool."
And with the Griz in the playoffs, Koppang is hoping this final ride lasts as long as possible with his hometown team.
"Every Missoula kid, I feel like, has a dream playing here, and not a lot get the opportunity," Koppang said. "And I was one of the lucky ones. And it's been a dream of mine. And I was able to achieve it. And I have no regrets whatsoever. I’ve lived my dream and have the best time of my life. And it's a dream come true."