MISSOULA — Levi and Colter Janacaro have already had feel-good moments for the Montana Grizzlies this season.
Both local players and graduates of Missoula Big Sky High School, Levi has cracked the rotation at linebacker and been a key member on special teams — including a blocked punt and score against Cal Poly — while Colter, a true freshman, has been called upon to help fill a void as UM's running backs have been decimated by injuries.
But behind the scenes, the matriarch of the Janacaro family, Michaele, had been diagnosed with cancer, and last Thursday on Thanksgiving, passed away after battling since July of 2020.
It was a heavy blow to the tight-knit family, but her toughness throughout it all, was inspiring to those around her.
"Every time that we would we ask about it she would say she was doing fine," Levi said. "It didn't really hit me until I saw her on Wednesday, the day before she had passed, that she was as sick as she was because she had been putting on such a good show, didn't complain about it once, didn't act like a victim, but she was just strong throughout the whole fight."
College athletics are already challenging in their own right with the duties student-athletes must carry on the field, in the classroom and everywhere else. Most fans don't know about the hardships off the field athletes deal with, and through it, the brothers have leaned on each other, and their faith.
"We really have leaned on each other and leaned on God," Levi said. "I mean, after seeing the pain that she was in and knowing that she's no longer enduring that but knowing that she's walking side-by-side with Jesus Christ, it's kind of hard to be upset when you know that she's just as happy as can be.
"She trusted that it was all part of the Lord's plan and she went into the process thinking she was going to fight as hard as she could for as long as she could."
But the communities within Griz football and beyond showed just how willing they were to step up and help the Janacaros. The family set up a GoFundMe page to cover memorial service costs, and after just over 24 hours of being posted, had raised over $30,000, support that goes a long way after this tragedy.
The initial goal was $5,000 but has far surpassed that and continues to climb, with the dollar amount over $40,000 and over 500 donations by Thursday afternoon. Teammates on the Griz football team have also been vocal on social media with their support of the family.
With it, the family has felt the support from the community much more than they could have ever imagined.
"God is good," Janacaro said. "The outreach that we've received from friends and family and the whole city of Missoula and the state of Montana has been a blessing. My mom had such an impact on the community of Missoula and that's really coming to light even moreso than I thought it would with all of the people that have been reaching out and checking in if we need anything with food and it's been really amazing."
The service date is set for Dec. 20 with an open invite to the public, as the Janacaro brothers continue to compete in Montana's playoff run before celebrating the life and impact that Michaele left.
"Everybody that has reached out has told me how much that they loved her and how she would make everybody that she would talk to feel like they were good friends," Janacaro said. "Didn't matter if it was the first time that you met her or the 1,000th, she made sure that everybody she encountered knew that they were cared for. It really speaks volumes to the type of woman that she was after everybody that has reached out and the support that we've all got."