LUBBOCK, Texas -- When the Montana State and Texas Tech football game was announced some years ago, it was exciting news for Luke Gonsioroski, the Baker teen who was set to be a preferred walk-on with the Red Raiders.
Gonsioroski was already a fan favorite, both in Montana and Texas, after it was learned he was in remission from a battle with cancer. But before he moved the 16 hours from eastern Montana to west Texas, Gonsioroski faced a second encounter with cancer, this one ultimately taking his life in August of 2017. He was 18.
Gonsioroski's legacy is still discussed and was again at the forefront of conversations over the weekend when the Red Raiders hosted the Bobcats at Jones AT&T Stadium.
“Me and Luke met my junior year of high school, it would have been his sophomore year, at state track in Kalispell," said Montana State punter and Jefferson grad Jered Padmos. "Ever since then we kind of communicated with each other, almost weekly, talking about football or any sport we were playing at the time. It’s just amazing how he was able to touch so many people and reach out to so many people within sports and everything else.”
“It was heartbreaking. ... We found out during our Class B all-star football game that the tumor was removed and he was back in Baker," Padmos said of learning about Gonsioroski's initial remission. "We were all so happy for him and hoping for a good recovery and that he would be able to get back to doing what he loved. Hearing for the second time that it came back, it was just heartbreaking and sad. Completely heartbreaking.”
The same sentiment was felt in Texas that August, as Red Raider fans had come to know Gonsioroski's story -- one of courage, faith and compassion. Those fans showed their appreciation last fall when Luke was honored during a nationally televised game against Oklahoma State, where Texas Tech announced a scholarship in his memory.
“Probably the biggest impact that I had was when his folks came back last year, (former Texas Tech and current Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury) brought them in after Luke had already passed, and I got to visit with his parents," said Texas Tech director of football operations Tommy McVay. "We were outside on the front porch and just started bawling, both of us. It’s tough, and I know it’s tough for them.”
“For our people to recognize what happened in that situation, it was very heartwarming," McVay continued. "And certainly for the parents, just give them something to reach and hold on to, because at that time it hadn’t been that long since Luke had passed and it was tough, tough, tough on them. I certainly didn’t know Luke as well as Kliff did, but just to be engaged with the parents when they came in the front door, seeing what he could have done, where he could have been, it was very heartwarming.”
Padmos, who posted to Twitter prior to the game, "Wish I was playing against you today, but here I am playing for you," dedicated his play to Gonsioroski and his family. Through mixed emotions, Padmos turned in arguably the best performance of his career: punting nine times for a 51.4-yard average, with a long of 63 yards, while pinning the Red Raiders inside their own 20-yard line three times.
Through the first week of college football, he ranked No. 2 in the FCS in yards-per-punt average (51.4), while MSU was third in net punting (46.89).
“It was a very emotional day. Hannah, his little sister, actually texted me (Saturday) morning and basically told me good luck and she wished Luke was here to greet us and play his home state. Unfortunately he wasn’t, but it was an honor to be able to play for him and continue his memory,” Padmos said. “The way that he was able to reach out to other people, I just think that to continue his memory and play for him is something that I can do just to honor him and what he was able to do. It’s completely emotional. Honestly, at the team dinner (Saturday) I was struggling a little bit after Hannah texted me. It was really emotional, but I was fortunate enough to have a good day and play for him.”
“I always have his wristband with me and (I always remember) his contagious smile," he continued. "His willingness to reach out to other people and brighten their days was remarkable.”
“We certainly don’t want to forget what that kid did," echoed McVay. "Luke was a great kid, not only in school, but as a person, very religious and those things, you’re always asking yourself, ‘Why? Why?’ And I understand he never did.”