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Monday, March 19, 2018

photo courtesy of Mike Person

Person's NFL dedication made in Montana

“I’ll always be a small-town kid, regardless of if I’m in a big city. Everything I’ve learned was learned in a small town, so that’s always going to be there,” — Mike Person

By Anthony Varriano

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

If you’re from Glendive you know the story of Mike Person, and how tragedy resulted in triumph. 

Mike’s from an athletic family. His father, Jim, played college football at Montana Tech, and his uncles Dennis Lowney and Jerry Person also played college football, so it wasn’t surprising that Mike earned Class A All-State football honors as a junior and senior, was named team MVP as a senior and was selected for the Shrine and MonDak All-Star games. He was also a two-time State Discus Champion, and lettered twice in basketball at Dawson County High School. 

Mike credits his work in multiple sports as one reason he’s now a member of the St. Louis Rams of the National Football League. “You just have to give it your all, and it can’t just be during the season. Everything that you do helps you in a different sport. Basketball helped my quickness and coordination, and track helped my footwork,” Mike explained. “You just have to buy in all year because it’s not a seasonal thing. It has to be something you’re dedicated to. The biggest thing is dedication.”

Mike’s dedication could have taken a huge hit after his redshirt season at Montana State in 2006. His number one fan, his mother, Shelley, was really sick. She passed away in December of 2007 as her son struggled with injury and loss in his first full season as a Bobcat. 

Despite all the work in high school, the biggest reason Mike is an NFL player is “mom and dad. I think that goes without saying. It’s where you come from. They’re your base, and without them I definitely wouldn’t be where I am.”

Mike came back with a vengeance in 2008. He earned honorable mention All-Conference honors while helping the Bobcats lead the Big Sky in most rushing yards and fewest sacks allowed. He allowed just 2.5 sacks and one quarterback pressure all season, started every game at right tackle, and was named the team’s Most Inspirational Player in the spring, and for good reason.

The following season he was named First Team All-Conference and started every game, again.

Montana State running back Cody Kirk only got to run behind Mike for one season and only saw a few carries, but they formed a relationship in the weight room in 2009, where you could generally find Mike if he wasn’t on a football field or in class. Kirk said he “could write pages about Mike. Playing with him and being his teammate was amazing. He played with such intensity and was a guy you would do anything for and never wanted to let him down.”

In Mike’s senior season he was the most decorated player in spring practice, earning the program’s Chuck Karnop Award for Toughness and the D’Agostino Family Strength Award for his work in the weight room and was elected to be a captain by his teammates. Something must have rubbed off on Kirk, because he won the Chuck Karnop Award and D’Agostino Award the following year. 

Mike didn’t allow a single sack in his senior season and finished his college career having started 48 straight games.

“Growing up in a small town you’re going to have to work hard to get noticed,” Mike said. “Everything that you do…you have do everything to the best of your ability for you to even have a chance. Being from Glendive instilled that in me – doing everything that I could, whether it’s at work or in practice.”

Offensive lineman fly under the radar, and because Mike’s arms are just 32 inches long, scouts believed Mike would need to put on considerable weight and move to guard in order to “stick” in the NFL. So it was a surprise that Mike was drafted by San Francisco in the seventh round of the 2011 NFL Draft.

“The thing about the NFL is all about if you can stick,” Mike said. 

Mike’s durability and gym rat mentality made him sticky. He’s stuck around despite being released by the 49ers, signed by the Indianapolis Colts, released by the Colts, signed by Seattle, released by the Seahawks and claimed by the Rams. And his dedication remains unfazed, despite long workdays and little playing time.

“Monday and Tuesday is basically Saturday and Sunday for us. So I wake up at 6 a.m., go in and get a lift, and then start meetings at 8 a.m. for four hours. Then we have a walk-through and come in for 45 minutes. Then we go out for practice. Then we get in the hot tub or cold tub and get any therapy we need and do a review of that practice film after.”

That doesn’t even include meals, which are just a part of the job for a six-foot-four-inch, 299-pound interior offensive lineman. Mike will be able to enjoy a large meal with his wife, Kelly, and her family in St. Louis for Thanksgiving. Mike said his favorite thing about Thanksgiving is “the family time. You can just sit around, watch football, eat turkey, and just relax.”

His father won’t be there for the holiday, but just visited for the Rams dominant win over one of the best teams in the league, the Denver Broncos. It may have been a big win to everyone but the Rams, though.

“We always approach every game the same way, whether we’ve lost four straight or beaten arguably the best team in football.”

Mike said he’d embrace the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving, regardless of the short time to recover from a game on Sunday. His 49ers got that opportunity his rookie year against the Baltimore Ravens.

“It’s tough,” he said. “It definitely is hard on some guys’ bodies, but coaches really take care of you now.” 

The owners take care of you, too. Mike’s making a comfortable NFL salary, but the money hasn’t gone to his head.

“I’ll always be a small-town kid, regardless of if I’m in a big city,” he said. “Everything I’ve learned was learned in a small town, so that’s always going to be there.”

The Rams are still in the hunt for an NFC Playoff spot, so when asked when he’d be visiting home next, Mike hesitated, not because he wasn’t considering coming home, but because you never can tell what’s going to happen in the NFL.

Mike was the guy that got you tickets to the Bobcat game when you couldn’t get in. He was the guy that stopped for photos with Cats’ fans and always smiled no matter how many times you screwed it up. His photo has been featured in Late Night Superlatives on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, again, smiling from ear to ear. He’s the biggest thing to come out of Glendive besides a train in a long, long time, and not unlike a train, he stays on the same track and always comes back home.

Reach Anthony Varriano at rrsports@rangerreview.com.

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