GREAT FALLS — For many Montana athletes Christmas day is double the fun.
They get to unwrap presents and also find out they were selected to play in the Montana East-West Shrine Game. But for some players, Christmas comes months later. In the case of Huntley Project quarterback Tylan Croy, it came two weeks ago while he was on vacation with his family.
“We got a message a few hours later because we were out of service when we got the call,” Croy recalled. “They said if you want to play, then give us a call so I kind of talked to my dad (Huntley Project coach Guy Croy) about it, then decided to play and gave them a call back and said I’d do it.”
Every year when the Shrine Game rosters are released, dozens of deserving players are listed as alternates. But a lot can happen between December and July. Players get injured, schedules change and every year several alternates are called upon to fill roster spots. Croy is one of 11 players practicing with the East team in Great Falls this week that weren’t on the Christmas day rosters.
But that didn’t make the moment he made the team any less special.
“As a freshman, I’ve always wanted to play in this game,” Croy said. “I was a little disappointed when I saw I was an alternate, because it’s been my goal to be on this team for a while, but then I got the call and it was cool, like, I get a chance to actually play in this game after watching it on TV all of these years, and watching some of our older kids play in it. That was just cool.”
Great Falls CMR tight end Jake Olsen was also listed as an alternate in December, but in April he got the call and jumped at the chance for one more game at Memorial Stadium with several of his Rustler teammates.
“It’s just cool. You get another chance to go out and play with your buddies,” Olsen said. “Having it at home is really nice. It’s Memorial Stadium. I think it’s the best stadium in the state by far. It’s cool to have everybody be here. My whole family is going to be here, so it will be nice.”
Though Bozeman defensive back Latrell McCutcheon wasn’t on the initial roster, there wasn’t a lot of suspense about his spot on the team after his head coach, Levi Wesche, was picked to lead the East.
“Wesche kind of talked to me and said I was sure to be in it,” McCutcheon said. “Because a lot of people had to drop out so I wasn’t too worried about it.”
McCutcheon, who will suit up for Minot State in the fall, looks at the week as the best possible way to prepare for the next level.
“All these guys are huge,” he laughed. “My team wasn’t the biggest, so this is good to play with good talent before I actually head off to college and start playing.”
No matter their path to the game, every roster spot is earned and appreciated.
“I’ve been working all summer, and we’re just sitting in our dorm rooms complaining about how hard it’s been and how sore we are,” Olsen said. “But it’s awesome and very worthwhile, especially with what the Shrine Game stands for.