MISSOULA — When it comes to Montana — both the state and football program — Braxton Hill is a walking example of each.
The Anaconda native and senior linebacker walked on with the Grizzlies out of high school, meaning he needed to grind and come in with a chip on his shoulder because nothing would be handed to him.
"I carry a ton of pride just being from a small town and bring in that small-town work ethic," Hill said. "There's been so many guys that came before me that were walk-ons, and it's all just about working hard and believing in yourself.
"I think that's kind of the small-town mentality here at Montana so just doing what the guys did before me for sure."
Hill actually grayshirted in 2018 before joining the Griz, meaning, though signed to the program, he waited a semester before joining the team while he recovered from a shoulder surgery he underwent as a senior in high school.
When he arrived in 2019, Hill saw time on special teams as a freshman, began cracking the defensive rotation in 2021 as a sophomore, and became a full-fledged starter the past two seasons.
The learning curve was steep, but UM's linebacker room is typically stocked with high-level talent, so Hill had mentors everywhere to learn from.
"Learning the defense, learning the habits that the coaches expect us to have here definitely took a minute, but I had the whole COVID year, and I just had great leaders ahead of me like Dante (Olson), Jace (Lewis), Pat (O'Connell), Marcus (Welnel), Mike (Matthews)," Hill said.
"Those guys, they led by example in terms of the playbook and stuff. They helped me and (former defensive coordinator) coach (Kent) Baer, he essentially taught me everything I know about football linebacker-wise just because when I came here I didn't know much, and this defense is pretty complicated. So credit to the senior leaders, the linebacker core and coach Baer."
He also battled through injuries a season ago, as Hill showcased his toughness and drive to do whatever the team needs.
"The last two years, I've just tried to help the team in any way that I can, just work hard and try to do my job out there and just try to get a win," Hill said. "But last year I was dealt with a little bit of adversity, and I'll go back to the guys ahead of me, they are just great leaders.
"They've had adversity in their careers, they were really great helping me go along with that how they dealt with it, and how they came on top, just doing what those guys did and there's always light at the end of the tunnel.
"It might not be pretty for a while. But at the end of the day football is a game, it's not always comfortable, so just got to understand that and team first always."
Hill is a Montana product through and through.
An avid outdoorsman who hikes, hunts and fishes, while representing small towns is something many fans can relate to, but even more, the senior is an example for other kids who were like him growing up.
"I don't take that lightly," Hill said. "It's cool for sure when you're here, you talk to middle schoolers, high schoolers, and they look up to us. It's cool, you don't want to let yourself down or your team down, and you don't want to let those guys down. Just doing what the guys did before me, it's cool for sure."
And when football eventually comes to an end for Hill, his next step is education.
Hill graduated from UM with a degree in elementary education, and student-taught at various schools during his studies. He's currently working on his masters in educational leadership, and is certified to teach kindergarten through eighth grade, saying he'd prefer to teach third or fourth grades so he can teach all subjects.
While student teaching, he'd bring his teammates along knowing they'd have an impact on the students.
"Those kids, they just look up to us Griz football players so much," Hill said. "I didn't necessarily realize that until I was actually in the schools and then when I was in the schools, I just tried bringing along my teammates and guys and say let's go to the schools it'll make their day.
"I'm super blessed that schools let us come do that just because it's so cool, and you see them on Saturdays. They look up to you and it makes you think about your role you have here at Montana for sure."
Being a Griz runs through Hill's blood as his sister, Torry, played for the Lady Griz in the early 2010s.
It's a tie that got even stronger when Hill was voted a captain on this year's squad by his teammates, as his hard work and sacrifices didn't go unnoticed.
"It meant a lot just knowing that the guys in the locker room, those are the guys that you train with year-round, those are the guys that see you do things on a daily basis so knowing that they wanted me to be a captain and the other four guys is a huge honor to me," Hill said. "It's the biggest honor you can have as a football player is to be voted senior captain or team captain, so to me just wanted to ramp things up.
"I wanted to keep doing the right thing. I wanted to keep working hard and just knowing that the things that I was doing that sometimes you don't feel like other people are seeing, they were seeing since I got voted for, so I just wanted to ramp things up and needed to be a good leader."
In his career so far, Hill has racked up 170 total tackles, 13.5 for loss and 7.5 sacks. He also has two interceptions this season, the latest a pick-6 against Northern Colorado as he scored his first college touchdown.
As his career winds down at Montana, the Treasure State born-and-bred product has cherished every moment he's had along the way both on and off the field.
"I try not to put too much pressure on myself just because it's senior year," Hill said. "You've got to try to soak it in, but the senior class, I just love those guys. I've been here with them the last five years. I just try to soak in every moment, try to have fun, but also understand that underclassmen, they look up to us so we've got to be good examples day in and day out, and we're here to win we're here to have fun but we're here to win so it's been good.
"Having an impact on the field, off the field we're student-athletes so having somewhere to go when we're done here playing and having a career has been something that's been important to me from day one. We're football players, but we're also people and being a good person and building those habits and building those relationships throughout my time here has been special."