MISSOULA — All AJ Forbes needed was a shot.
Montana's senior center carries powerful self-belief in his abilities, frankly, because he has to when others doubt what he can do.
Forbes experienced that first-hand when the Nebraska native lived out a dream by walking on at the University of Nebraska that took an unfortunate turn.
"The low point in my career was when I walked into my coach's office at Nebraska, and I was told that I was too short to play Division I football," Forbes said. "I was going to need to work hard even to be considered on the travel squad. What it sounded like was I was going to be overlooked regardless of what I did, and that's why I ended up transferring and that was the low point in my college football career."
It was then when Forbes' mind traveled to a difficult and painful place.
"I remember driving back to Bellevue (Nebraska) from Lincoln after that meeting and I had tears in my eyes thinking like what if they're right," Forbes said followed by a long pause. "So that was the first time in my life where a little bit of self-doubt creeped into my life, and it took a lot of soul-searching, it took a lot of conversations with my parents, and my fiance Alyssa, talking about everything I've worked hard to do and really building that confidence to understand what I was capable of again. I ended up finding that."
He found that at Montana where Forbes — listed at 6-foot-2, 300 pounds — transferred to in 2020.
And no time was wasted when he arrived as Forbes was thrown into the starting center position immediately and hasn't looked back since with 33 starts under his belt.
"I knew what I could do and I knew if I ever went to a place that I didn't think would fulfill my potential, then that would always live with me for the rest of my life," Forbes said. "So I decided to bet on myself coming out of high school, decided to bet on myself going into the transfer portal and coming here.
"(UM offensive line) coach (Chad) Germer and (head) coach (Bobby) Hauck have given me everything that I've ever wanted in a college experience. They believed in me and that's all I could ever ask for from any coach and so I'm super thankful for that."
Betting on himself is what Forbes does.
He proved that when he took a chance and experienced life as a walk-on at a Power 5 school, and again when he left the only state he'd ever lived in to move across the country to Montana.
"The biggest thing that I needed to get used to was the fact that I was looked at as a starter," Forbes said. "I needed to prepare in every form and fashion whether it's in the weight room, the classroom, in the film room and especially the football field, I needed to prepare like a starter and I knew that there was an increased responsibility with being that but that's what I wanted when I came here.
"I was surrounded by a bunch of senior leadership (when I arrived) that pushed me to be what I wanted to be and center is that position. You have to be a vocal leader, that was something that I knew I needed to improve on when I came here. At Nebraska, I was a guy that wasn't necessarily in the spotlight, but I was a guy who wanted to lead by example. I knew I didn't have the pedestal that a lot of the other guys had so I wanted to lead by example and so when I came here I had to move from leading by example to being more of a vocal leader and eventually I turned into that."
Last season Forbes earned third-team All-Big Sky Conference honors, and before this season began, Forbes' leadership, work ethic and perseverance was recognized by his team as he was voted a captain for the Grizzlies, accomplishing one of the few personal goals he had when he began playing college football.
"I think there is no greater honor than being recognized by your teammates for everything that you do and being voted as a captain, so when we got the news that I was elected a captain, I was super happy," Forbes said. "I was super thankful for all of the guys, it was like I was getting the reassurance that everything that I had been working to do was right and that's all a guy can ask for."
As his decorated and consistent Griz career winds down, Forbes has managed the ups and downs of college football and life, and proven not only did he belong, but even more, he thrived.
"I try to live my life, I try to go about things doing the right thing all of the time," Forbes said. "That's how I try to live my life and if high school AJ could see everything that I've been through and where I'm at now, I think he'd understand that everything he's doing and will do is the right thing to do so that's what he would say."