Former Red Devil plays in East-West Shrine Game

Sunday, July 29, 2018
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Former Red Devil Jayden Holley, far right, poses with some of his East teammates after the East-West Shrine Game in Great Falls Saturday. Holley said getting to know and play with athletes from rival high school teams was one of his favorite parts of the experience.

Twelve years went by without a representative from Dawson County High School playing in Montana’s premier high school football all-star game, but that streak finally came to an end this past Saturday, July 21, when Glendive’s Jayden Holley took the field for the East team in the annual East-West Shrine Game in Great Falls.

Holley, who graduated from DCHS in May, was the first Red Devils player since Mike Person in 2006 to be invited to and play in the Shrine Game. Like most Red Devils, Holley played both offense and defense in high school, but he was selected as a defensive end for the Shrine Game. Getting invited to play in the game was a dream come true for the gregarious young man.

“You have to be an elite player to be there, so it says something,” Holley said.

Holley had been dreaming of playing in the Shrine Game for the last few years, and as he entered his senior season, he made it a personal goal of his to be the Red Devil who would finally crack back into the Shrine Game. But a mid-season injury cut his final high school season short, which he said left him all but certain that his dream of playing in the Shrine Game was lost forever.

“It was a goal I set at the beginning of my senior year, but then I got hurt and I thought that chance was gone,” Holley said.

However, the East team coaching staff had apparently seen enough film on Holley to feel he deserved a spot on the team, and so with a phone call he thought would never come, he was on his way to Great Falls to represent DCHS and Glendive.

“At first, I didn’t believe it,” Holley said of his feelings when he got the call inviting him to join the Shrine Game. “It was just an unbelievable feeling.”

Besides his mother, Chrissy, and his grandmother, three of Holley’s DCHS teammates – Tyler Clapp, Nelson Crisafulli and Stephen Steinbron – made the trip to Great Falls to support him and cheer him on, something he said meant the world to him.

“It meant a lot,” Holley said of his three former Red Devils teammates being there. “It meant a lot that even though I was far away from home I still had Red Devil support.”

Holley noted that Crisafulli kept track of his stats for the game, recording four tackles and “a bunch of quarterback hurries” for him in the game.

Late in the game, with the East team leading by a field goal and the West team driving, Holley blindsided and absolutely decleated a wide receiver who had just caught a pass with a thundering hit, eliciting an impressed “WooHoo!” from one of game announcers on the live TV broadcast.

But Holley said it wasn’t until after the game was over that it really sunk in what he had accomplished.

“Playing in it, it hit me like after,” he said. “I was lying in my bed in the dorm room and I was like, ‘Holy cow, I’m playing in the East-West Shrine Game! It actually came true, my dream of playing in that game!’”

Holley added he was also struck by the bonds that quickly formed amongst his East teammates despite the bitter rivalries that often existed between them during their high school careers.

“Just playing with everybody from the surrounding area all put on one big team (was my favorite part of the experience),” he said. “I mean like Miles City is our big rival, but they turn into kind of like your brothers when you’re out on the field together. It’s good to play against them in season, but it’s also a weird, good feeling to play with them on the same team.”

Adding to his good feelings was the fact that the East team ended up winning the game. With the Red Devils having ended a 20-year playoff drought during his senior season, winning the Shrine Game was just one more cherry on top of the ending of his high school career.

“It’s good to end high school on a really good high note,” Holley said. “I mean, high school doesn’t matter anymore, but I can look back on this game and tell my kids and grandkids that I won it in the year 2018.”

Besides playing in and winning the actual game, part of the Shrine Game experience is spending time with children struggling through major illnesses at the Shriner’s Childrens Hospital. Players interacted with those children at several events throughout the week of practice, including a couple of trips to Great Falls Voyageurs baseball games, and Holley said it was a wonderful experience to get to spend time with those sick children, especially with the way they look up to the players.

“It was cool, because they want to grow up to be just like us,” Holley said.

With a final feather in his cap from his high school playing days, Holley is ready to move on this fall to Dickinson State University, where he has received a scholarship to play football and run track. He will redshirt his freshman football season, but he said he is looking forward to the new challenge – and to adding even more mass to his already hulking frame.

“I’m looking forward to a new start – a new team, new coaches. It’s college football, so I’m expecting to get pretty big – bulk up a lot,” Holley said.

But while moving on to DSU may be a new start, a new challenge, a new path in his life, Holley said Glendive will always be a part of him, noting that the feeling of “family” – both from his teammates and the community at large – is the most important thing he believes Glendive has imparted to him.

“Probably like just how much of a family we all are,” Holley said when asked what his biggest takeaway from Glendive will be. “We don’t exclude anybody from anything. We all just kind of come together at the end of the day as a team, as a family.”

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”I was lying in my bed in the dorm room and I was like, ‘Holy cow, I’m playing in the East-West Shrine Game! It actually came true, my dream of playing in that game!”
Jayden Holley