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Jefferson High School graduates Grace Jones and Jaxson Yanzick plan to continue their athletic careers at the college level, along with four of their classmates. 

Most colleges told Jaxson Yanzick he was too small to play collegiate football, so, with a chip on his shoulder, the 5’8’’ 155-pound running back/kick returner will play this fall at the only school to make him an offer, the University of Montana-Western. 

Grace Jones, on the other hand, had received some interest and a couple of offers to compete in track and field, but after visiting many, she knew the one place where she would like to attend college was the University of Providence in Great Falls.

Jaxson Yanzick, a three-sport athlete at JHS participating in football, basketball and track, will be going to the University of Montana-Western in Dillon to play football, and study business administration. Grace Jones, who participated in four sports throughout high school, golf, softball, cheer and track, will be going to the University of Providence in Great Falls to compete in track and field events shot put, hammer throw, discus, weight throw and javelin while studying biology. 

“The opportunity to play college football has always been a huge dream of mine,” Yanzick said, “and now it’s a reality”

Including Yanzick and Jones, the JHS Class of 2020 has six student-athletes going to college for their respective sports in the fall. Derek Nygaard and Avery Stiles are heading to Montana Tech for football. Coen Guisti and Carter McCauley are both going to compete in track and field —  Guisti at Montana State University-Billings and McCauley at Rocky Mountain College.

Yanzick has played football with Stiles since “small-fry football” which started in fourth grade, and throughout high school. In college, he is going to be playing against both Stiles and Nygard, as Montana Tech and Western are both in the Frontier Conference for NAIA.

“I think it will be intense,” “If we are ever playing at the same time then it will be a little like, oh I got to outwork those guys I know they work hard.”

Both Yanzick and Jones participated in national signing day on Feb. 5 in the JHS library to declare their college of choice.

Jones visited several colleges before settling on the University of Providence. In the end, Jones couldn’t see herself attending the other schools, and ended up liking the coaches and the campus in Great Falls. 

Yanzick and Jones have both excelled in their respective sports at JHS. Jones took ninth place in shot put at the 2019 Class AA/B state track and field meet in Kalispell last year. Her best meet however was the 2019 Southern B divisional meet, when she took third after she launched a shot put 34’ 6’’, she said.

 Yanzick was awarded first team all-conference and all-state honors as a running back his senior football season after taking off the JHS uniform one last time. He averaged about 108 yards per game and scored 8 touchdowns in his nine games senior year. In five of those games, he ran for over 100 yards rushing.

Sports aside, these two are student-athletes with the “student” preceding the “athlete.” They, same as their classmates, still had to finish their senior year academically to go to college. Yanzick and Jones both described their senior year as one that they did not, could not, expect.

“The COVID thing definitely threw a kink into everything and there are all the riots going on,” Yanzick said through a smile, “It’s like the end of the world is what it seems like almost.” 

“I thought it was going good and then everything just kind of fell apart at the same time,” Jones said, followed by a laugh.

Governor Bullock ordered all Montana K-12 schools to close starting March 16 due to the spread of COVID-19 and the MHSA later announced that they would cancel the spring sports season if schools did not open by May 4.  Bullock then announced that all schools would have the option of reopening May 7, effectively ending the spring season.

This included Jones’ senior track season. She said she was really upset that her season got canceled when she first heard the news. She didn’t perform as well as she would have wanted to at state last year, where she was planning on breaking the school record in shot put but didn’t. This was supposed to be her redemption season, she said.

But after a month or two passed and she was able to think about it, Jones said she was grateful. Grateful that her senior season wouldn’t be her last and that she has four more years of competition ahead of her. 

“I’m not grateful for COVID, but I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to continue,” Jones said.

Yanzick was bummed after having his track season was canceled, but he had already finished football for the year, the sport he would go to college for. When he first heard the news that school would continue online, he was excited, but the initial glamour of not going to school eventually wore off.

“I was like ‘oh wow I just get to chill at home and have some free time’,” Yanzick said, “and then after a month I was like ‘this sucks, this is so miserable.’”

Both continued to workout while school was closed. Yanzick said he would go down to the football field almost everyday to throw a football with his father or push his father’s lime green 93’ Chevy Silverado truck around the parking lot. Grace, much more modestly, continued to work out by doing cardio and strength exercises at home.

After about a month, and with only three COVID-19 cases reported in Jefferson County — one being a man diagnosed while out of the state, both of their parents started to let the two go visit their friends.

Ultimately, they have each reconciled with what they missed out on. For Yanzick, it was talks with Mike Hesford, their English teacher, and for Jones it is the ability to be taught in person. She said she has been teaching herself math and admitted she is worried for her collegiate level classes next fall.

Now, they remember the good times of their JHS sports, and what made each worth playing. Jones remembers a triple overtime basketball game in the JHS gym where she and others finished victorious against a Townsend team.  And for Yanzick, it was the last football game he ever played for JHS against Malta in the first round of the Class B football playoffs, which they ended up losing.

“Afterwards the emotions were so high,” Yanzick said, “I was crying, Coach [Clint] Layng was crying, everybody was just in tears and I thought, ‘yeah this is definitely like a brotherhood.’”

They remember the people that helped them achieve the opportunity to play college sports. Yanzick said all of his teammates and coaches have helped him get to where he is now. Both Coach Layng and Morris helped push him on the field and in workouts.

Jones said both of her parents have helped her tremendously throughout high school. They have always been supportive and involved within her sports. She is the eldest of six children and Jones said her parents never missed one of her games.

And lastly, both remember the community that supported them along the way. 

Each is looking forward to focusing on their one sport without juggling the others. After moving to Jefferson High her sophomore year, Jones said the Boulder community was accepting and very supportive.

“I was the new kid, and they always cheered for me,” Jones said.

Yanzick said the community he has grown up with his whole life in Boulder has been fantastic. His grandpa, Tim Yanzick, owns Phil and Tim’s and Jaxson said whenever he stops by, he is always congratulated by the regulars.

“They are like my fans almost,” Yanzick said, “it feels pretty cool to walk down there.”

Yanzick chose the University of Montana-Western to play as a kick returner after many colleges told him that he was too small to play college football, he said. The 5’8,’’ 155 pound running back ended up choosing the Bulldogs in Dillon as his next team, as they were his only offer to play football. Regardless of the lack of interest from other schools, he said he has always loved UM-Western and has friends at the college already.

“I was like, okay,” Yanzick said about teams telling him he was too small, “I’m going to have to show them that they made the wrong decision.

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