MISSOULA — When Levi Janacaro learned that friend and teammate Marcus Welnel was passing on the Montana Grizzlies' legacy No. 37 jersey to him, well, you could say it was a lot to process.
"Kind of felt like I was going to puke," Janacaro said with a laugh. "I just don't do well in those sorts of situations, and he told me and I was like, 'Oh God, yeah dude that's sweet.' I had like a pit in my stomach and he was telling me that it's alright if I wanted to cry and I was like, 'No, I'm good dude, I appreciate that.'"
But can you blame him?
Last week Janacaro was announced as the new possessor of the 37 legacy, a tradition meant to represent the heart of the UM program.
For the Missoula native, you couldn't draw it up any better.
"It's huge. It's a blast. Like growing up a Griz fan and watching the games and knowing what the jersey meant, it's been really cool," Janacaro said. "I think of guys like Jordan Tripp and (Zack) Wagenmann, the Missoula kids that have worn it, it's really an honor and a blessing to be able to be a part of that."
Janacaro — the third home grown player from Missoula to wear the jersey — especially remembers watching Tripp live when he started going to Griz games.
But the former Missoula Big Sky Eagle has also suited up alongside three other members of the 37 fraternity in Jesse Sims, Jace Lewis, and his predecessor in Welnel, and he saw firsthand how they exemplified the spotlight and leadership of that role.
"All three of those guys were the hardest workers on the team," Janacaro said. "They led by example which is what I'm going to try to do. Nobody really wants to listen to a guy that's telling you what to do if he's not doing it, so I'm going to try to follow what they did and work my butt off, be blue collar and try to emulate their work ethic."
The connection between Welnel and Janacaro runs deeper too, as Janacaro will officiate Welnel's wedding this summer.
It started as a joke, but eventually, found legs.
"So my fiance and I really wanted to have someone that knows us pretty well, so we didn't really want to have someone that doesn't know us as well, so we kind of sat down and thought about family and friends, who could really do it and I don't know why both of us thought that Levi would be the perfect guy to do it," Welnel said. "So it kind of started as a joke, so I went and asked Levi if he'd do it and he seemed extremely excited to do it, and then Lexi, my fiance, and I talked about it and were like well let's do it, like why not? So we asked him officially and he was super excited to do it so we're excited to have him."
"That's super cool that he thinks that I'm a guy that he wants to marry him and his future wife. I think that's a pretty big deal," he said. "You don't want just some scrub that's doing that so I think that it's a heck of a deal that they think I'm qualified to do that.
He added with another laugh, "I did get my (officiant) license, it's not that hard. It's not that hard to do online. Not something that I thought I'd be doing though. But if it goes well, maybe something I do a little bit more of."
On and off the field, their bond is tight-knit. And Welnel knows how special that moment is when the 37 becomes reality.
"I know he kind of grew up the same way, you always watch the guy wearing 37 down on the field and just grow up and hope you can be that guy, so being able to pass that honor on to him, knowing how much it means to him is really cool," Welnel said. "I'm excited to see how hard he continues to work this summer and to grow into that legacy and to wear that jersey in the fall.
"He would do anything for this program. He would die for the program, he's a great guy in the community, an extremely hard worker. I think he just represents everything 37 represents so I think he'll do a great job."
Janacaro added, "(Marcus is) just a great guy so it meant that much more that he thought I had the characteristics to bear the responsibility of what this jersey holds."
Janacaro broke out on the field in 2022, and heads into his final run with the Grizzlies looking to make an impact everywhere, and anywhere, he can.
"It's been a heck of a ride. Ups and downs, mountain peaks and valleys. It's been great," Janacaro said. "I think God has kind of helped me through in most of that when times got tough. There's position changes or there's times where I wasn't sure if I was going to make it, if I didn't think that I'd stick it out. My teammates and coaches, they pull me back in and man I'm thankful that they did. It's hard to look back on five years now, but it's been a heck of a fun career here."
And when the fall rolls around and his number changes from 36 to 37, Janacaro wants to emulate what those before him did on and off the field.
"Hopefully I'm making plays, but more than that I just think that it's the man that makes the jersey, not the jersey that makes the man," Janacaro said. "I've been told that a couple of times and I think it's a heck of a saying. Just that I'm a man of integrity and high character and that I'm a good teammate. I care about my brothers and if I make plays on the field then that would be great and if I don't I just hope they know that I'm more than a football player."