Polson graduate Matthew Rensvold is making the most of his time with the Montana Grizzlies
In a tense Big Sky conference opener, the Montana Grizzlies, clad in their throwback jerseys, were tied up with the Sacramento State Hornets entering the fourth quarter. During a 62-yard drive, Montana found themselves facing a fourth down and goal from the 1-yard line.
Matthew Rensvold stationed himself to the right of his quarterback, Dalton Sneed, and awaited the snap. Rensvold then sprinted straight for the end zone, turned around, and caught a bullet from Sneed to give the Griz a 6 point lead.
Three words summed it up for Rensvold.
“It was awesome.”
Rensvold, a 6 foot 4 inch tight end from Polson, is a redshirt freshman for the Griz. The former Pirate has made a name for himself on the field this year. On the second reception of his college career, Rensvold scored his first touchdown. After the pass from Sneed, Rensvold turned and held the ball up to the fans in the North end zone, which had exploded after the score.
“The electricity in the stadium really was something else for me. It was cool to have 26,000 people standing up, cheering and having your teammates all excited and stuff... yeah it was for sure a cool experience for me.”
The touchdown was a turning point for the team in their first conference game, which saw four lead changes, three ties, and a two-score lead by the Hornets in the second quarter. The Griz went on to win the game 41-31.
Head coach Bobby Hauck praised Rensvold.
“The first thing you say when talking about Matt is that the future is really bright for him,” he said, “He’s a good athlete, he runs well and he’s going to get bigger and stronger as his career goes on.”
The future was not looking quite as bright during fall practice last year. Rensvold sustained a knee injury that kept him out of practice for this year’s spring ball.
“It set me back a little bit – but all injuries do,” Rensvold said.
Hauck backed that statement.
“It’s too bad he had to come off a significant injury last year because it inhibited his growth in the offseason, but you know he did everything he could to get back and he wasn’t really full go until training camp in August. So he’s emerging and becoming a bigger and bigger part of the offense.”
Rensvold has been part of some significant changes in his first two years as a collegiate athlete. First came the coaching change, from Bob Stitt to Bobby Hauck, then the position change. He went from what he called a ‘hybrid’ wide receiver position to a tight end.
“It has honestly been pretty easy. There’s a big difference in mentality from both the coaches I had but the transition hasn’t been very hard,” he said, “In the last offense we had more of a wide receiver, not a tight end. The new offense we have is a true tight end,” he said.
Rensvold’s high school coach, Scott Wilson, contributes his success to a few important traits.
“I think the biggest thing is that he is very competitive…it’s key to being successful at higher levels in my opinion,” he said, “Also just the willingness to work hard, the drive to work hard. He set a goal for himself that [playing college football] is what he wanted to do and did everything, in my mind, that he needed to do to achieve that goal and now he’s able to showcase what his abilities are at a higher level.”
Hauck has been happy with his efforts.
“He’s grown up. Obviously, we are talking about a guy who is a freshman and kind of a skill guy and now he’s playing down in the front, which is foreign territory for him.”
Playing ‘down in the front’ means a significant amount of blocking for Rensvold. He’s put on between 25 and 30 pounds since he started playing.
“I probably need to put on more,” he said.
When not down in the trenches, Rensvold has taken advantage of opportunities. Against Cal Poly on September 29, he had two receptions – a 45-yard catch and an 8-yard catch for a touchdown. Those kinds of plays lead to more snaps.
“That’s kind of how it evolves,” Hauck said, “the more plays you make, the more opportunities you get. He’s earning a lot of opportunities.”
As a kid, Rensvold dreamed of playing college football. As he grew and started playing more competitive sports, he started to get serious about it.
“It was definitely my goal to play football in college. Ever since I was in middle school and knew that the dream could come true I always wanted to play for the Montana Grizzlies. It worked out in a cool way and I’m glad I’m here now.”
One of the people who believed in him was his dad, David Rensvold, who spent years as the offensive line coach at Polson High School.
“My dad was always supporting me and telling me that I could do this if I wanted to and if I worked hard.”
For Dave, his son’s first college touchdown was a full circle moment.
“I had been pretty focused on Matthew’s athletics for a long time and we did everything that we could to create opportunity for him from the time he was 2 years old throwing a football at him in the living room,” he said, “So, I was done coaching him, I was done being that guy. I just got to be a fan and cheer. It was a pretty cool feeling.”
Fifteen of the years spent coaching for David Rensvold were alongside Scott Wilson, who happens to have his own ties to the Montana football program. His son Tanner, Matt’s classmate and friend, also took the trip south to Missoula to play college football. The 6 foot 2 inch former Pirate is currently listed as the third string QB.
Hauck said Wilson is doing well.
“He’s third on the depth chart, which is where you want your freshmen to be. Tanner is doing a good job.”
Although third-string quarterbacks don’t often see field time, Wilson saw his first college action against Idaho in the fourth quarter of Montana’s game against the Vandals.
“Oh man it was cool,” Wilson said of the experience.
To make it even better, Rensvold was on the field with him.
Between Wilson and Rensvold, the list of high school achievements is impressive. From all-conference to all-state and MVP awards to caption honors, the two have piled up the accolades.
The awards did not stop after high school. Both received scholarships at the Scholar Athlete Awards Banquet this year, and both of them were on the Dean’s List this past spring.
Their friendship extended to the college level as well. Rensvold says it’s nice to have Wilson there.
“It has been great. He’s still my best friend. It’s pretty much the same as high school.”
Scott Wilson spoke of the two and their friendship that has endured for almost two decades. “Tanner one of those kids that thinks it’s awesome that Matthew is having a good year,” he said, “And I think he’s probably Matthew’s number one fan.”
Dave Rensvold added, “This is a journey they have been on together for a long time.”
Of course, Wilson was ecstatic to see his teammate and friend catch his first collegiate touchdown.
“Oh, it was pretty sweet. I was all sort of excited,” he said, “I love seeing him succeed.”
The Pirate faithful had a lot to celebrate when athletes like Rensvold and Wilson were around. One of their major accomplishments was bringing home a third place trophy from the Class A State basketball tournament two years in a row. They also competed well on the football field. In their junior year, Rensvold and Wilson helped take the Pirates to the quarterfinals. The following year, they won their division and received a bye, but ended up losing in the quarterfinals again.
“There are both good and bad memories from those years for sure,” Rensvold said.
With his dad being a coach, Rensvold spent a lot of time around the game as a kid.
Scott Wilson described Rensvold’s early football education.
“He grew up around football. His dad Dave was also on the staff so there was a lot of days that he and Tanner growing up were at practices, they were on our sidelines as waterboys, ball boys and things like that,” he said, “So they’ve been around the sport watching, listening, seeing that on a regular basis growing up, and I think what that gives you is a better understanding of the game.”
The Pirates had stiff competition from teams like Whitefish and Columbia Falls, but now they have the chance to play with some of their former competition, including Whitefish stand out Jed Nagler, who plays defense. They also join a very talented group of players from the Flathead Valley like Evan Epperly and Josh Sandry.
Recruiting kids from Montana is one of Hauck’s goals. He’s willing to look at any deserving athlete in the state.
“We evaluate any kid in the state that has a chance, and based on our evaluations we want to recruit every kid in the state that can help us win a championship, and then go elsewhere to get the rest of what we need,” he said.
The Montana blood runs particularly deep in the tight end department. Six out of the eight listed on the roster are from Montana. Rensvold splits snaps with guys like Missoula’s Colin Bingham and Billings native Bryson Denning, but he led all tight ends with two touchdowns this year.
While in high school, Rensvold played wide receiver for Coach Wilson. He knows all about what kind of offensive threat Rensvold can be.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to coach a lot of good receivers throughout my career, but Matthew has to rank if not the best, one of the best kids I have coached in terms of his set of hands. He just doesn’t drop things. He catches the ball. He’s very sure-handed and very reliable.”
Tanner Wilson added his thoughts on what makes his teammate stand out on the field.
“He’s a hard worker. He does his job, he does what he needs to do and doesn’t say much about it.,” he said, “He’s got great hands and runs pretty good routes. I think things like that will help in the future as well.”
during the offseason, get better and be ready to go every year.”
“I’m really excited for him to have an offseason and get healthy and get back to work with the little things and not just have to be rehabbing,” his dad added.
Since missing out on the playoffs this year, Rensvold started that process last week.
If this offseason is anything like the last 15 or so, Rensvold is sure to come back for the 2019 season bigger, stronger and more of a threat on the field than ever before.