BUTTE and BOZEMAN — Professional athletes are looked up to as role models in their communities. And last week a handful of former and current NFL players came to the Treasure State to give back to a community that has always supported them.
“To have these guys, these guys in the NFL that are coming out on their own dime and they believe in exactly what we are doing, I can’t say enough good things about our NFL guys,” said Dane Fletcher, who played linebacker for the New England Patriots.
Fletcher invited a handful of pros to his Verified Combine Camp to give high school football players the opportunity to attract college coaches from outside the state since Montana athletes are sometimes underestimated compared to other western states.
“It’s really hard for kids to get an objective start from Montana, and I think about that, not only for the kids that are here, but if my kids were to play high level,” said former Indianapolis Colts offensive lineman Matt Ulrich. “And it’s hard to get noticed from Montana, so I love the fact that this can be a place to look to to want to be a hotbed for talent.”
While Fletcher, a former Bozeman High and Montana State standout, was helping the football players get to the next level, the Atlanta Falcons stopped by Bozeman for the third consecutive year to help teach younger athletes the attitude it takes to develop into not only a successful athlete, but a respectful person.
“Our mission is developing character and skills through athletics, so we get here and sportsmanship and having a good attitude, integrity, perseverance and teamwork, and we are really trying to instill that in the kids,” said Bobby Butler, a 12-year NFL veteran with the Atlanta Falcons from 1981-1992.
With Fletcher helping with the fundamentals and the Falcons teaching life lessons, Colt Anderson held his Dream Big Montana camp in Butte with even more NFL veterans to give young players one last lesson: always reach for the stars.
And all these pro athletes hope the lessons they taught last week will last for a lifetime.
“At any point in time, any one of these guys that played professional or college sports had to understand, ultimately it’s up to you, but sometimes you need somebody or someone to believe in you,” said Jordan Tripp, a Missoula native who recently retired after playing four seasons in the NFL with a handful of teams.
“I remember when the first pro football player came out of my hometown and what that meant for me and how it raised me up and inspired me,” added Butler. “So we know that our platform and what we did years ago, kids still look up to that, parents still look up to that. So we just want to use that to help inspire kids.”