Go 70 miles south of Polson on busy Highway 93 and you come out in Missoula, home of the University of Montana.
For former Polson High School star athlete Matt Rensvold the black ribbon of U.S. 93 asphalt is a paved pathway to fulfillment of a childhood dream.
A four-time defensive Most Valuable Player for the Polson Pirates who excelled in basketball and track, Rensvold dreamed of playing football for the Grizzlies.
Now he drives the route daily from a home he shares with two roommates in Polson to the classrooms and football facilities of the University of Montana campus. A redshirt sophomore in what has become an injury-plagued season, Rensvold said he also wanted to don the maroon and silver Griz uniform.
“I definitely wanted to be a Griz,” he said. “As a young kid my family and I went to a lot of Grizzly games. Playing for them was something I always wanted to do.”
Beginning with his junior year in high school, Rensvold’s athletic prowess had begun to attract the attention of college football recruiters. Continuous contact with UM football recruiters led to a scholarship offer in 2016, his senior year of high school. What caught the college coaches’ attention were his skills as a linebacker as well as his ability as a forward on the basketball team and on the track team.
During his four-year run at Polson High, Rensvold earned letters in football, basketball and track every year. He was named Northwestern A conference MVP in football and basketball and landed on the Class A all-state team twice as a linebacker.
Making the jump to the Big Sky Conference level in athletics has proven to be an eye-opener, he said. “I played 11-man football in high school so it’s basically still football at this level. The big differences at the University of Montana level are the size of the school, playing in front of big crowds and the atmosphere that involves, and most importantly the big difference in the size, strength and speed of the athletes on the field.”
Succeeding at the Big Sky level, Rensvold said, is a fulltime endeavor and more.
“For one thing,” he said, “you know weight train all year and concentrate on just the one sport.”
Accomplishing that requires a lot of focus and drive, including making the 140-mile roundtrip every day from his residence in Polson.
“Yeah, I hop into my pickup truck and drive it all the time,” he said of the daily journey down and back to Missoula. “With the drive, classes, working out, attending practice and team meetings it’s pretty much a 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. day.
Getting used to that kind of schedule and day took a while to get used to.”
After redshirting his freshmen year in 2017, Rensvold played in all 11 football games in 2018. He finished that initial season with eight catches for 89 yards, including two touchdowns. The second pass he caught in his college career was a one-yard touchdown grab against Sacramento State.
A wildlife biology major, Rensvold said he chose that educational path because of the many options open in the field. His focus on the football field is similar to that in the classroom. Last year he was presented with the Ken Staninger Memorial Scholarship during the school’s scholar-athlete awards banquet.
For now, Rensvold is concentrating on rehabbing some injuries and the upcoming Brawl of the Wild game, pitting the Griz against cross-state rival Montana State this weekend.
“I played in the game last year (a last minute victory by the Bobcats),” he said. “That game means a lot to say the least. It didn’t come out last year like we wanted and we have had that in mind all year. We are ready to get after it this year.”
Reinsvold described the annual intrastate clash as “electric.”
“I have friends who go to Bozeman,” he said. “It’s a game you definitely want to win.”
This year’s game in Bozeman will no doubt be played before a full house of more than 23,000 people. It’s a long ways from the crowds that attended games in Polson, but Reinsvold is loving every minute of living out his dream.