BOZEMAN, Mont. - The University of Montana Western football team is coping with the loss this week of a standout teammate. Senior MJ Simkins died Tuesday morning in a fire that started in his home.
School officials say Simkins was a respected and valued teammate and, off the field, he studied hard. Simkins consistently made top-10 lists for grades on the team and was an NAIA scholar.
Head football coach Ryan Nourse says Simkins was more than a player -- he was a role model. During this tough time he remembers Simkins as a standout member of their community.
Ryan Richardson is the athletics director at UM Western. He says Dillon is a tight-knit town and, in it, Simkins played a big role.
"When you look at what we're about as a community and you try to say 'This is what we want our kids to grow up to be,' you look at a students like MJ Simkins," Richardson said.
Nourse met with the team Tuesday night. He says they're taking care of each other right now. He adds the team won't be the same without Simkins.
He hopes Simkins' legacy will inspire others.
"His drive to be as good as he can be and to be his absolute best is contagious. That's the one thing I'll remember the most," Nourse said.
Nourse is working on memorial services to honor Simkins. Details on the plans have not yet been finalized.