MISSOULA — One of Tucker Schye’s best Christmas presents of all-time came in the form of a phone call.
On Christmas Day, former Griz defensive end and current New England Patriot Caleb Kidder called Schye to tell him that he’d be wearing Montana’s coveted No. 37 jersey for the 2017 season.
“It was a good Christmas present I feel like,” Kidder said. “I remember being in his shoes and when Zack Wagenmann gave it to me, it was a big deal and a cool experience. I just felt like what a cool thing to get on Christmas.”
Schye, a senior defensive end, is the 13th Griz to wear No. 37 since Kraig Paulson began the tradition of passing the number down to a younger Griz native to the state of Montana in 1987. Paulson, a fullback known for his “Spirit of Montana” demeanor full of dedication and work ethic, wore the jersey from 1983-86.
“I’m happy to be able to earn that,” Schye said. “I think I’ve earned it and I’ll take it in stride.”
The number’s legacy is so cemented into the fabric of Griz football culture that the 37-yard line on both sides of the field at Washington-Grizzly Stadium is specially highlighted.
“Wearing that number in honor of those that came before us and built the program to where it’s at today is a huge honor,” Kidder said. “I think that to be able to wear that, you need to know and be grateful for that opportunity. That’s one of the reasons I knew Tucker would be grateful for that opportunity. He knows the significance of 37.”
Schye’s very aware of the number’s significance. And according to others, he embodies what wearing the jersey is supposed to represent.
“I think with his blue-collar mentality, that just screams Montana,” UM defensive line coach Brian Hendricks said. “He’s not very flashy. He’s just a very blue-collar guy."
Those “blue-collar” values have aided him in getting to where he is today, and, in turn, helped him earn No. 37 by “just playing (my) ass off,” in Schye's own words.
Defensive coordinator Jason Semore agrees.
“It’s a tremendous honor for Tucker,” Semore said. “I think it was the perfect choice because of the way he handled himself as a teammate the last couple years. Nothing was given to Tucker. He earned it.”
Schye demonstrated to Semore early on that he would have the ability to be a leader for the Griz. One instance in particular from early in Schye’s career stands out for Semore all these years later.
Back when Semore first started at Montana in 2015 as the special teams coordinator, Schye’s work ethic stood out.
“My first year here, we were challenging the guys to get special teams back to where they should be,” Semore said. “Tucker was one of those guys that took leadership of that role that year. He blocked three punts and did some great things for us. I remember asking him to step up and take ownership of that unit and he’s a guy that did that.
“Dealing with Tucker as an underclassman was very rewarding for me because I knew he had ability. I knew he loved playing football. Watching him grow and do that and embrace those things, I knew from that moment he was going to be a special player moving forward.”
Schye hails from Malta, a small town nestled in the center of Phillips County in northeast Montana, a six hour drive from Missoula. Even though Malta’s a Griz town, Schye, according to Montana Athletics records, is only the fourth Malta native to be a football letterwinner.
“(Growing) up playing small-town football, you play both sides of the ball, you play special teams all the time,” Schye said. “I think you really get a sense for what that means and how hard you have to work to get to a place like this.”
Schye’s had to work to get to where he’s at. He came into Montana as a back-up linebacker on a partial scholarship. Five years later, he’s on a full scholarship and is looking to get his first start at defensive end.
“Tucker’s a unique guy because he embodies everything that we want our Griz football players to be,” Semore said. “He’s a guy that is unselfish and selfless. He’s a guy that’s always had tremendous ability and he’s a guy that’s worked hard and has been a good teammate and has waited for his chance.”