Griz football trips to Northern California are special for TraJon Cotton.
A Sacramento native, Cotton will have a homecoming of sorts when Montana travels to UC Davis this weekend for their next game, with his family prepared to welcome Griz faithful, and support No. 3.
"Last year when we went to Sac State it was special, a lot of my family got to come, even my family in the Bay Area drove down, it was a big thing," Cotton told MTN Sports. "They tailgated out there. When they come out here, parents always invite them to their tailgates and things like that, so it's nice to kind of host our own little thing back in Sacramento. They're going to do it again this weekend in Davis so it should be a fun time. I love going back home."
Cotton is in the midst of his final season with the Grizzlies as one of Montana's leaders on defense at safety, a position he's worked hard at since arriving to UM in 2020 from Oregon State.
His work ethic over the years hasn't gone unnoticed either, as Cotton was voted a team captain by his peers, one of five players bestowed that honor.
"It was just a blessing that I'm a transfer guy that really just kind of worked," Cotton said. "It's just crazy to see how much respect your team really has and how much they look up to you and it's just a blessing and I just hope I represent my team as well as they think I will. I want everybody to ball out and make a play. Like I get more excited for my teammates making plays than I do for myself, so I just really want the Griz to win and to ball out. That's all I really care about.
"I just try to play my role. Try to do things right, try to do the little things right. I just knew coming to this program it was kind of just big on pride and tradition, and doing things right, and being a real blue-collar worker type, and that kind of fit with my motto. I feel like I always do things right and take care of my business and have fun later, and it's just been a match made in heaven."
Off the field, Cotton has thrived in using his time in the classroom.
Cotton has already graduated from UM with a bachelor's degree in public health, and back in the spring he earned his master's in public administration. In December he will receive a certificate in entrepreneurship.
"It's really just been a blessing to get my college paid for and I feel like I wouldn't have my masters degree and all of that if it had to come out of pocket for me and my family, and it's just been a blessing," Cotton said. "I hope I'm a role model for kids back in Sacramento that are thinking about playing at the next level, but also that the grades are important as well. And that's what I'm kind of trying to show."
By earning those degrees, Cotton also became the first member of his family, to graduate from college, a goal set for him by his late grandmother.
"Going to college, my grandma who passed away in 2018, she just said you better come back with a degree, at least," Cotton recalled. "At least come back with a degree, and I'm happy I made her proud and I did that for her and my parents kind of always been on that as well. When I said handle your business and have fun later, my dad instilled that in me when I was kind of young.
"When I wanted to go out and hang with my friends or something, 'Is your homework done?' You know what I mean? Things like that. That's kind of always been instilled in me as well so I kind of carried all of that over with me and it's all paid off.
"When I first got in college I really was kind of doing it for Sacramento, but the older I got, I kind of realized how much my nieces and nephew love coming to the games and love really just seeing me succeed and that's kind of been my push. I just want to let them know it's possible, we could do it and they're next."
Cotton was also recently named a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, also known as the "Academic Heisman."
Everything he's done and accomplished has been with his family in mind as his Griz career has flourished. That comes with setting goals, and pursuing more even after earning his first degree, and in turn, making his family proud of what he's attained.
"They were just so proud of me," Cotton said. "And to see me going after I did it, my family is just so proud of me, and I feel like I still owe everything for them even though they're proud of me, I feel like I owe them. It's just crazy but they're just so proud of me and I'm happy I made them proud.
"I feel like that's who I am and I feel like people see me as more than a football player."
With the Grizzlies, Cotton has played in every fall game for UM since he arrived, and he cracked the starting rotation midway through 2021. Earlier this season, he grabbed the first interception of his college career in UM's win over Utah Tech in Week 2.
On and off the field, Cotton's time has been well spent at Montana, as he's made the most of every opportunity, and become the living embodiment of a student-athlete.
"It means everything. It's just crazy how thinking Montana football really just took me in with open arms and let me really be a part of it," Cotton said. "Like, I really feel a part of this program, this organization and this school, this university and that's kind of what I felt was missing at my old school. It was a strictly business but it's business here as well but they care here and that's kind of what I like.
"I love Missoula, I love Montana. I love Montana football, it's been great."