The Montana Grizzly football team recruits players from cities and towns all across Montana, both big and small. But none of these towns are as small as Savage, Montana, the hometown of redshirt senior Ryder Rice.
Rice, a redshirt who is new to the team this season, took a non-traditional route to UM. He spent the last four seasons at Rocky Mountain College in Billings where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in small business management.
As a redshirt senior, Rice chose to spend his last year of collegiate eligibility playing with the Grizzlies. He is taking classes to obtain his master’s in business administration.
Savage is a small eastern Montana town. According to the 2010 census, Savage has a total population of 320 people. Rice said the town is “pretty country” and there was nothing to do besides hunt and fish. However, he recalls playing a lot of pickup football in the parking lot between his house and the neighbors’.
“I graduated with eight kids, and I think I was related to four of them,” he said.
In high school, Rice played six-man football, an entirely different game than traditional 11-man football. Six-man football is played on a smaller field, and every single player is eligible to receive a pass.
Rice said his high school football games were well-attended. In the years he played, the team was successful and developed a good following.
“I think we had a couple hundred, the whole town basically,” Rice said about the attendance.
After high school, Rice joined Rocky Mountain College, an NAIA Frontier Conference School, where he redshirted as a freshman. At Rocky Mountain, he transitioned into playing 11-man football. He said this transition was easy because each player’s job was more defined.
He started as defensive end for three years at Rocky Mountain. In the 2018 season, he helped Rocky win a Frontier Conference championships and was awarded NAIA All-America second team, Associated Press NAIA All-America second team and First-team All-Frontier Conference.
One thing that stood out to him after moving to Billings was the size of the city. Billings is the biggest city in Montana with over 100,000 people, according to 2017 U.S. Census Bureau statistics.
Savage is “a town of 400 where the only place to eat in town is a bar —and we have a gas station,” Rice said.
Rice moved to Missoula and joined the Montana Grizzlies this year for his first and final collegiate football season. He said that running out of the tunnel at Washington-Grizzly Stadium for the first time was amazing.
“Twenty-four thousand people is big enough to be a small city, and we fit it all in that little area,” Rice said. “When you get them all going and have them screaming at you, it's an experience.”
Rice is listed on the depth chart as second string line backer for the Grizzlies. He has recorded 19 tackles this season.
After he moved to Missoula, Rice said he noticed the streets were “ridiculous.” However, he also noticed the town and the surrounding outdoors were beautiful.
“There’s so much fishing and hiking and hunting you can do around here. It’s pretty cool,” Rice said.
There is a sense of fame and notoriety within the community that comes with being on the Grizzly football team. Coach Bobby Hauck said that he expects his players to handle this by being “the best guys on campus.”
Rice said you have to behave in a manner that reflects what this place is all about and conduct yourself with a sense of pride. He has a lot of respect for everybody that has built the tradition and culture within Grizzly football.
“There’s definitely a standard set that you’ve got to live up to, and there are a lot of eyes on you,” Rice said.