MISSOULA — The student section at Washington Grizzly Stadium never fails to get the crowd excited, and that’s partly thanks to a certain shirtless superfan in the front row.
Will Thomas is a lifelong Grizzly fan and has spent his college career painting his skin maroon and cheering from the front row of the student section.
He hopes to leave his mark on the University of Montana football scene.
Thomas grew up going to Griz games with his dad, fondly remembering tossing a football on campus grounds before kick-off.
In high school, he started attending games more regularly and began a tradition of painting his skin.
“On Griz Game day mornings, my bathroom looks like, you know, something bad happened in there," he says. "There’s red and maroon fingerprints on things, there’s paint on the walls, sometimes on the mirror, on the floor.”
Will Thomas is best known for his gameday fits. He can be seen in the front row of the student section, shirtless and sporting a maroon and white afro. His skin is always painted in some fashion of maroon and silver.
He says going shirtless is a way to show strength and solidarity with the UM football players, who rarely wear sleeves.
“You know, we Montana boys, the cold doesn't bother us,” he says. “It's kind of like a mindset type of thing. And it's a great thing, it's a lot of fun and you know we're jumping up and down during the game, we're moving and staying warm. But it just, it kind of just started out of, you know, the idea of bleeding maroon almost.”
Since his sophomore year of high school, Thomas has only missed a handful of games.
“Nothing is quite like Washington Grizzly where you can turn to a neighbor, give them a high five, cheer on your team with a stranger,” he says.
Now Thomas is a junior in college studying business and journalism. With only two semesters left until graduation, Thomas will be sad to leave the student section.
“It's a bummer knowing that I only have one season left to get loud and crazy at Washington Grizzly, but I think the biggest thing is if I show up every game that I can and go crazy and bring that energy to the stadium and help the student section be loud and be proud,” he says. “As long as you know as long as we're passing the torch.”
While a typical Griz fan may be tailgating up until kickoff, Thomas and his friends are waiting in line at the gates hours before the game. In fact, for the Brawl of the Wild Thomas says he was out front five hours before kick-off.
But arriving early is a small price to pay for getting front-row seats in the student section.
“It's just so special being up close, hearing those pads hit each other, the helmets and hear the players talk and almost feeling like you're right there with the game,” he says.
While he will miss the student section, Thomas knows the same energy rings throughout every section of the stadium.
“I think Washington Grizzly Stadium is such a special place because the fans can have an impact on the game,” he says. “So I think it's, it's really cool to kind of leave my mark on that, you know, the fan aspect of the Griz gameday experience.”
Thomas hopes his mark will show Montanans the excitement of being a Griz fan.
“A lot of people ask why I'm, you know, why am I such a big fan, and especially with the Griz you've got a team repping my state on their chest going out and fighting week after week to you know, almost put Montana on the map a little bit, and it's pretty cool to be a part of that.”