MISSOULA — Life has been special for Marcus Welnel of late.
On the field, the senior for the Montana Grizzlies football team is a leader on defense, and is now officially donning the legacy No. 37 jersey.
But off the field, life after football is also forming for Welnel, who over the summer got engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Lexi Johnston.
"We always talked about it, we wanted to get married young," Welnel said. "I know a lot of people maybe think that's not a good idea but we knew. I wanted to be with her and she wanted to be with me, so we just thought why keep waiting? We wanted to get married young, so just thought we could get engaged. I knew she was the one so there wasn't any reason to keep waiting on doing it."
For a hard-hitting linebacker who plays in front of large crowds, Welnel is used to the spotlight.
But in that moment with his now fiancé, Welnel found himself in unusual territory.
"You know, I never really get nervous on the football field but I had a little speech planned to say to her and not a word came out of my mouth," Welnel admitted. "So that was one of the nervous moments that I've had, but it was cool though."
With his engagement secured in May, Welnel entered his final season of college football with the Grizzlies after a breakout campaign in 2021.
Welnel waited his turn behind a Griz legend in Dante Olson, and once he took the field full time, he took advantage of it.
"Actually being out there and living my dream," Welnel said. "I've played for the Griz since I was a freshman, but really last year was the first year I felt like, I started, I was a player, I was contributing to the team so it was cool to feel like I finally played for the Griz. I lived out my dream.
"Playing for the Grizzlies was always the goal. Coming here as a little boy, you see them and just want to play for them. I love football, ever since I was little. This was the dream so I'm happy I accomplished it."
With Welnel expected to be a major player in 2022, expectations were already high to see how he'd continue to grow. In UM's opening win over Northwestern State, Welnel led the Griz with 11 total tackles and had half a sack as well.
But back in July, the Helena native and Capital High grad was dealt an unexpected honor, and was given the legacy No. 37 by Townsend product Jace Lewis, something Welnel had dreamed about achieving since he was a young Griz fan himself.
"It was special for sure," Welnel said. "There was a lot I could say about that but it was one of the coolest moments ever. Telling my fiancé when I got home was pretty special.
"It means so much to me. It's a big honor and I want to represent it well. It's really what I think every Montana boy dreams of. It's what I dreamed of every day so it's pretty cool to do it."
On and off the field, everything is working out well for the senior Grizzly as he continues his final season at UM with the Griz ranked No. 3 in the FCS as a national championship contender.
"God has blessed me. There's really no other way to put it. He's been great to me. I'm really living my dream," Welnel said. "I'm engaged to the girl of my dreams, I'm wearing 37 for the Griz, I mean this is everything I dreamed of so it's really cool to be able to do that."