(Editor's note: University of Montana Media Release)
MISSOULA -- Of all the eye-catching things Montana all-American Dante Olson has done on the football field, perhaps none will leave a more meaningful or lasting legacy than what he does off the field.
As he gets set to break more school records as the next in a long line of great Grizzly linebackers, for the second-straight year Olson is also set to carry on another UM tradition, passed down to him by former offensive lineman Cooper Sprunk. A tradition of encouraging kids to pursue a college education.
When Sprunk graduated UM in 2018, he tabbed Olson to continue a mentorship and pen-pal relationship with Keri Spengler's third-grade class at Gerber Elementary School in rural Northern California, where obtaining a college education can seem like a far-off dream.
Sprunk had spent months visiting with the kids from Gerber via Skype calls and letters, and even took it upon himself to fly to California to meet his new friends during a break in the school calendar. The relationship reached it's Zenith in 2017 when Spengler's class traveled to Oregon to see Sprunk and the Griz play live in person at Portland State, the result of a community-wide fundraising effort that gave the kids real-life exposure to life on a college campus.
For those who know the character of the man that led all of Division-I football in tackles last year, Olson unsurprisingly jumped at the chance to make an impact on kids' lives when Sprunk graduated and passed the tradition on.
In the summer of 2018, Olson made his own trip to Gerber to meet the next class of Grizzly pen-pals, spending the day getting to know them and encouraging them to pursue a college education as part of Gerber Elementary School's association with the "No Excuses U" program.
Now a year later, the Gerber kids will once again get the chance to meet their pen-pal in person with Spengler set to bring the class to see Olson and the Griz play at UC Davis on Sept. 28.
"It will be awesome. I got the chance to go down and see them last year, and it was a really cool experience to get to know them personally instead of just on Facetime or writing notes. So, it will be really cool to see them again. It means a lot," said Olson.
"Their school encourages the kids to go to college and now they have the chance to see a college football game, so I think that's really special for, not only them but for me as a person, to see them come and see us play."
To once again bring the pen-pal relationship full-circle, Spengler has set up a GoFundMe drive to raise the necessary funds to transport a busload of kids to Davis to meet Olson and see the Griz play against the Aggies.
To date, Spengler has raised a little over a third of the estimated $2,490 needed to make the trip happen, and the Grizzly community now has the opportunity to once again make the dream of a college education a little bit more of a reality for the Gerber kids. To put that in perspective, it would take less than a dime from everyone who attends Montana's home opener on Sept. 7 against North Alabama to help make this dream a reality.
"For the last 2 school years, Dante Olson of the University of Montana Griz has been a pen pal and mentor to my 3rd grade class," Spengler wrote on the GoFundMe page. "Dante has encouraged them to work hard, to be their best in school, and to be kind to others. By setting an example and sharing his own struggles and challenges he has provided them with the hopes of pursuing a college education in the future."
With Olson having grown up in a football family as the son of Southern Oregon University Hall of Fame coach Jeff Olson, he knows the power of the sport and the power of attending a game in person. Now he wants to give the Gerber kids a taste of the same experience he had in hopes they will one day be watching from a college campus as students.
"I remember when I was growing up, going to a college football game made me excited about the opportunity to maybe play a college sport or just go to college and sit in the stands," says Olson.
"So, for them being able to see and know somebody out on the field will be really cool, and I hope it gives them the chance to think 'Wow, maybe I can play soccer someday or I want to play football someday, or I just want to go to college and be a part of something like this someday,'"
Montana fans can donate to Spengler's GoFundMe drive at GoGriz.com