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Game in Miles City a reminder of Dickinson State players' roots

The bus ride from Dickinson to Miles City, Mont., where the Dickinson State football team will meet Montana Western in its first game of the season today, lasts a considerable two-and-a-half hours.

Dickinson State senior wide receiver Dalton Reid runs with the ball during a practice last season. (Press File Photo)
Dickinson State senior wide receiver Dalton Reid runs with the ball during a practice last season. (Press File Photo)

The bus ride from Dickinson to Miles City, Mont., where the Dickinson State football team will meet Montana Western in its first game of the season today, lasts a considerable two-and-a-half hours.

Geographically, it's a trip spent mostly on Interstate 94, past Medora, Beach, Wibaux, and through the dips and hills of the Badlands.

It's a 173-mile drive many of the players on the roster have made many times.

For the players and coaches with roots and ties in Miles City, lots of those miles on the way to the game will be spent thinking.

Thinking about all the friends and family that will be at the game, about the sounds and smells of Denton Field, about the gridiron grass, about former Miles City coach Dan Stanton.

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"I'm really excited for it. Going back with the teammates I had in high school, and getting back to that community and that field, it's a huge honor to get back there," said senior Dalton Reid, who played four years for Dan Stanton before moving on to DSU to play for head coach Pete Stanton, Dan's brother. "There's a lot of pride in that town. A lot of pride on that field."

Reid is one of five players on the DSU's roster from Miles City. All of them played for or knew Dan Stanton, who died last October after a fight with cancer.

The idea to play a game in Miles City isn't new, but for one reason or another, it never materialized.

When he was alive, Dan would bug his brother to bring the Blue Hawks there.

It always seemed like a good idea, but the biggest catch was losing a home game. This year, things finally fell into place. With Dan in mind, plus the usual insistence from Kelly Reid, Dalton's father who organizes the Badlands Bowl high school all-star game, it seemed like a better idea than ever.

Then, when Rocky Mountain College, a usual Blue Hawk opponent, dropped that matchup to play against Northern Colorado, it was the right opportunity at the right time.

'It's going to be a privilege. It's going to be an honor to play on that field where my brother was so successful for so many years," Pete said. "It's going to be hard, but they're such a supportive community, with what they went through last year, with what their team and their players went through. It was unbelievable how great those people were."

When DSU takes the field at 6 p.m., it will be closure for the Miles City players, particularly seniors Reid and Rob Nalewaja, and for Stanton, who will be able to check something important off his list - to man the same sideline on which his brother won over an entire community.

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"He made you a better person just by the way he was. He wasn't ever too hard on you for no reason. He was very stern but he was very understanding. He tried to make the best of every situation. He was a great coach," said Nalewaja, who also played four years under Dan. "He was the type of person who everyone looked up to. Everyone respected him. No one ever said a bad word about him."

Nalewaja, a junior with the Blue Hawks at the time, first heard the news about his former coach from his current coach.

After a practice, he noticed his coach didn't look well. He asked him what was wrong; Stanton told him Dan wasn't going to make it through the night.

It wasn't news that Dan wasn't well, but it didn't make hearing it any easier. The first thing Nalewaja did was call one of his best friends, Kyle Stanton, Dan's son, to offer him his condolences.

"How it happened was tough. It happened midseason. It was a hard time, especially for coach (Stanton). Just tried to be there for him and everything," Nalewaja said. "It hit home. It's still hard to talk about. Kyle is one of my best friends. I was always over at Dan's house. Not just for football. For other stuff."

Miles City is a tight-knit community of about 8,000 people. It raises hardworking, tough kids, Pete said. It reminds him of Dickinson, and the drive between towns is relatively short.

Over the years, Dickinson has been an ideal place for Miles City kids to extend their football careers.

"When Dan was here, it wasn't like he would push his players here. He might gently nudge," Pete said. "He was very popular with the players. I think there was a comfort level knowing they knew a lot of the staff members over here. I think there's also a lot of similarities between the community in Dickinson and the community in Miles City. These are very hardworking, loyal communities."

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If a player liked his high school experience in Miles City, he could bank on the same thing in Dickinson, Pete said.

"Dan was their head coach and they trusted Dan. It's close over there," he continued. "They knew they were going to get taken care of if they came here."

When DSU takes the field against Montana Western today, there will be some unknowns. They don't know who is going to win.

Montana Western - picked slightly behind DSU at No. 25 in the NAIA preseason coaches poll - is a good program. The Bulldogs narrowly lost last season to Montana Tech, the same team that blew out the Blue Hawks in the playoffs.

They don't know who will step up and play well, and they don't know which position will have a tough time.

The Miles City players, coach Pete Stanton, and the community that shows up to the game do know this much: what taking that field will mean to them.

When asked about Miles City, Nalewaja thought of the grass. Stanton thought of the community. Reid thought of all his friends. They all thought about Miles City's old high school coach.

"Dan was one of the best men I ever knew. He was a great coach, he was a great friend, he was a great mentor. He always wanted to get the best out of any athlete, which he did a tremendous job of doing," Reid said. "He would always want to get stuff done. No whining. He had a kick-butt attitude. He was a tremendous man. We're all very blessed to have played for him."

Related Topics: COLLEGE FOOTBALLBLUE HAWKS
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