MISSOULA — Playing for the Montana Grizzlies means something different for those hometown players who were born and raised in Missoula.
And for Tyler Flink, that rings true every time he steps on the field.
"It was nerve-wracking the first time I went onto the field. I was nervous, there was so many people and I've never played in front of that many people," Flink recalled. "It was nerve-wracking but very special, and I just am so thankful for everything and it's gone by fast even though I've been here for six years."
The senior and Big Sky High School graduate has taken the long road to become an impact player for his hometown university.
Flink originally walked on at Montana, and for any athlete who does that it's an uphill climb to see the field in any capacity. But Flink carries a blue-collar mentality and work ethic into his craft.
"I knew I didn't have a spot secure when I came here," Flink said. "No one really does, but especially the walk-ons. I knew I could be cut. But I kept my head down and kept working and at the end of the day, I did what was best for me and kept going.
"There's going to be good days, there's going to be bad days, but always push through, never give up and never quit so I started it and never would've quit."
Flink credits having a positive attitude in life has helped him stick with the good and bad, and he's had mentors along the way to help him.
"I think it's definitely my parents. My parents definitely always taught me that growing up and then my coaches on the way," Flink said. "(Big Sky head coach) Matt Johnson in high school always taught me that. I think I've just had a bunch of mentors that kind of taught me to never give up. Once you start something finish it, and so parents and coaches along the way and mentors and then my big brother and all that."
After growing as a player on special teams his first few years, Flink began to crack through on defense in 2022 — including an interception against Idaho State and a blocked punt return touchdown against Northwestern State — and this year he has picked up where he left off in UM's linebacker rotation as a featured player, as his hard work and positive outlook have paid off in a big way.
Through three games this year, Flink has 17 total tackles including 1.5 for loss to start the season.
"It's meant so much, being a walk-on, I've worked so hard to get here," Flink said. "I've worked so hard throughout my career but it's been an awesome experience. I've had so much support from my family, friends, extended family, everyone so it's kind of crazy to see all of the support Griz nation has. I think it's an incredible special place to play, and I'm just thankful for it all.
"I just always try to be a leader, whether that be starting role, you don't play at all, I just always want to be a leader for our team. I'm a senior leader, six years here so I kind of know how everything works now. Just trying to be the best leader I can be and whatever that role is, try to fit it into that, and it happens to be playing a lot more on defense and kind of being a leader so it's what I've accepted and I'm enjoying it and just trying to be the best guy I can be in the locker room and on the field."
Flink's career has also been alongside fellow Big Sky Eagle and best friend Levi Janacaro, making the ride together that much more special.
"It's been awesome, it's kind of crazy to think we've never been away from each other for more than a week at a time in the last 11 years, it's pretty crazy," Flink said with a laugh. "Like we've never been apart from each other, but it's been awesome, he's my best friend and it's been great so watching each other grow has been awesome, supported each other, all that."
When it's all said and done, he'll leave UM with a master's in business administration as well as an undergraduate degree in business management and entrepreneurship, as he's utilized his time productively on and off the field. Flink ultimately wants to get into the business side of life, and has worked for his dad, who owns multiple NAPA Auto Parts shops in town, over the past several years.
It all stems back to working hard and taking care of business, something Flink has done, and will continue to do as his senior campaign wraps up.
"I think just be remembered as a good leader, good teammate, good football player, just give everything I have to the Griz and it's kind of how I've approached it," Flink said. "I think just having just such good friends, family, teammates always been here to support me. I'm from here, there's nowhere else I'd rather be, so I've just had a good attitude.
"At the end of the day, you have a fresh day the next day so a good attitude, there's a lot of ups and downs, and it's been a great ride."