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Billings' Trevin Gradney to wear Montana Grizzlies' No. 37 legacy jersey in 2024

Montana No. 37 jersey
Posted at 3:36 PM, May 13, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-13 22:38:56-04

(Editor's note: Montana Athletics news release.)

MISSOULA — When the time was right for Levi Janacaro to pass on the No. 37 jersey — one of Montana's most time-honored traditions — he cooked up a plan in the most modern of ways to carry on the legacy.

To not tip his hand, he enlisted the help of former No. 37 and current manager of the Good Ol' Grizzlies Collective Marcus Welnel to set up a lunch meeting with All-America cornerback Trevin Gradney to talk over an NIL opportunity late last week.

"I didn't know how to tell Trevin to meet me at the Mo Club without him being suspicious that it had something to do with the number," said Janacaro.

"He walked in and said 'Levi, what are you doing here?' And I said, 'Oh, I'm just meeting with Marcus. Why are you here?' 'I'm meeting with Marcus to about some NIL things too.'"

After the two chatted about spring ball, finals, and upcoming summer plans, Welnel was a no-show. That's when Janacaro hit Gradney with the news:

He would be the next in a long line of Grizzly greats to wear Montana's legacy No. 37 jersey.

"Levi said 'I'm not going to beat around the bush, Trev. Marcus isn't coming. This is about the number, and I want you to wear it.' And I was like, Ooohhh …," said a shocked Gradney.

"I kind of thought that it wasn't a great plan and that he'd see through it, but God bless Trev, he didn't," laughed Janacaro.

Days later, Gradney was still nearly speechless. "It was a really cool, really special moment."

Gradney, a rising senior out of Billings West High School, did what so many Montana natives have done before him: Come to UM on a partial scholarship and make his mark on special teams early in his career.

His breakout season came in 2023 when he led the Big Sky with five interceptions to earn All-America honors as one of the top cornerbacks in the FCS while playing a key role in Montana's national championship run.

Gradney now becomes the 18th player to wear the No. 37 jersey since the tradition began in 1986. He's also the first-ever Grizzly from Billings, and the first defensive back to wear it in 34 years when safety Todd Erickson received it from Tim Hauck in 1990.

"It's a big honor and I couldn't be more grateful. I don't think it's really set in yet, but it's an absolute honor. All glory to God," said an emotional Gradney.

"The way that number represents Montana, represents the university and our football team, is something special and I'm very grateful to be a part of it."

Gradney had one of the great seasons at cornerback in Grizzly history as a junior in 2023. He earned a place on the Walter Camp FCS All-America team and first team All-Big Sky honors after leading the league (and the nation for much of the season) in picks. He also finished top-four in the league in total passes defended with 12, despite missing two games with injury.

He started the year with an interception in each of the first four games — every one more highlight reel-worthy than the last. He finished with some of the biggest plays and memorable moments of the whole season.

In the Brawl of the Wild game against Montana State, he picked off a Tommy Mellott pass in the fourth quarter that led to the game-sealing touchdown from Nick Ostmo two plays later.

He sealed the win over Furman in the FCS quarterfinal with a pass breakup on the final play of the game and sent the Griz to the semifinal round for the first time in over a decade.

In short: Gradney proved he can get the job done on the field. And as a three-time Academic All-Big Sky honoree, he also gets it done in the classroom having already earned an undergraduate degree, now working toward an MBA from the UM College of Business.

None of the above happens without hard work behind the scenes, just some of the reasons why Janacaro chose him to carry on the No. 37 tradition.

"It's everything about him," said Janacaro.

"As far as football goes, he's one of the hardest workers on the team. I remember last summer I was trying to be a senior and show everyone that I was there to work. I tried to be the first to workouts and the last to leave. The one guy that was always there with me was Trevin. He wasn't doing that to compete with me, he was just doing that because he knew he had a lot of extra work to put in if he wanted to take his game to the next level.

"Just watching him work and the way he carries himself, that stuck with me throughout the season."

Montana's No. 37 tradition is more than just hard work. True it began in 1983 when Plentywood native Kraig Paulson passed his number to another promising player from Montana, Hauck of Big Timber. Paulson was known for his hard-nosed play and workman-like mentality.

Since then, it has evolved to represent that hard work and so much more. It represents the "Spirit of Montana," something Janacaro also saw in Gradney.

"Aside from football, he's a great player, but he's also an amazing dude. I just love him. He's a great guy, he has high character and integrity. The way he carries himself is very admirable. Just who he is and how he works – the man that he is kind of made the decision for me without him knowing it," Janacaro added.

"I'm excited to see him represent the number in his own unique way. I think it will be really fun for him and he's going to do a great job. He's a great person, he works his ass off, does thing the right way, and treats people right."

As a Montana native, Gradney knows what the tradition has come to represent all too well. He grew up admiring the names that shaped the tradition from the Magic City, and the work they put in to help the Griz become an FCS blue blood.

He also knows that the jersey is just more than a shirt on his back, it's a reflection of the whole team. And that's what matters most.

"I think it represents a guy with his head down, a guy who tries to lead by example and do things the right way. Just a hardworking guy from Montana. That's what it means to me," Gradney said.

"It's awesome. I don't really have words for it yet, but hopefully we can just continue to build this football team. That's the goal. The number is cool and all, but the football team, and us winning, comes first. Doing things the right way is what needs to happen."