GREAT FALLS — The Montana East-West Shrine Game means a lot of things to a lot of people – but perhaps no one is more excited to be here than Browning wide receiver James Gilham.
“It really means a lot to me, actually,” he said. “Just representing the Blackfeet Nation is a great honor. We don’t really see that much wins in Browning and this year just changed the whole atmosphere around, it was really great.”
And Gilham is right about that.
Everything changed for Browning football this year under head coach Jerry Racine. The Indians enjoyed their first winning record in decades, their first postseason appearance in 27 years, and their first home playoff game in school history. The turnaround is something Gilham and his fellow seniors will always be proud of.
“I feel like we had a major impact on the program,” he said. “After all the wins started coming in, that’s when people started talking about football again. Kids actually want to start playing football. I think Browning should be a football town, not just basketball, because we have so many good athletes that come out of there.”
The success opened the door for more opportunities. Last week, Gilham and several teammates competed at the first-ever Indigenous Bowl in San Diego featuring Native American all-stars from around the nation. The Montana boys made their presence felt.
“There were a bunch of fast kids, but all of us from Montana — there were six of us — all of us basically kind of took over the game,” said Gilham. “Brandon Aimsback and Dylan Loring were offensive and defensive MVPs, but they split us up and the black team, my team, won.”
Aimsback was initially selected to play in the Shrine Game, as well, but a rolled ankle in the Indigenous Bowl will sideline him.
So that means Gilham represents the first Browning player to participate in the Shrine Game in eight years and just the second in the past 23 years.
His uncle Gerald Gilham played in the 1991 game.
“That’s the first person I called,” Gilham said. “Then my dad. He was so excited. When the (Shriners) called me up and said that I was playing, I just started feeling it in my chest and I got excited right from there, so I’ve been counting down the days.”
Gilham was an all-state receiver on the 5-4 Indians this year and caught the attention of NAIA schools. In February, he signed with first-year head coach Andrew Rolin and the MSU-Northern Lights.
“When I visited there, coach Rolin was just awesome,” he said. “I felt the energy from him and he wanted to change things there so bad, and then he started bringing in great recruits. I felt like home there.”
Gilham will play with several of his future teammates this week. The East team includes several other Northern recruits like Great Falls CMR’s Damien Nelson, Belt’s Keagan Stroop and Laurel’s BJ Hatcher, and they’ve already started talking about the future.
But for all the football reasons the Shrine Game means a lot to Gilham, his favorite moments of the week came off the field.
“Kids smiling is probably the best thing that’s going to happen this week,” he said. “And winning of course. But making the kids happy is one of the things I’m looking forward to.”