MISSOULA — As the 122nd Brawl of the Wild approaches, it's a game that is special to hometown guys like Levi Janacaro.
The Missoula native and Big Sky High School graduate grew up just a few miles from Washington-Grizzly Stadium and is living a dream scenario in his final run at Montana.
"It's been such a surreal thing to be able to play for your hometown team," Janacaro said. "I feel like that's kind of a, not a cheesy thing, but something that you'd see in a Hallmark movie or something. It's been so amazing to have this chance to meet the people that I have, build the relationships that I've built, and represent this school, this city, the state of Montana, it's been just surreal."
Janacaro's career has been a testament to willpower and belief.
The road was bumpy to start, as Janacaro arrived to UM and needed time to find playing time and, more importantly, a position.
"It's been wild. I came in here as a fullback, moved to running back, tight end, back to running back, back to tight end, then to linebacker and that stuck, and since then it's been a blast," Janacaro said. "Time flies when you're having fun. Trip's been filled with a lot of mountaintops and a lot of deep valleys, but I'm grateful for all of it. It's been awesome."
At first, it was difficult for Janacaro to not see playing time after a decorated high school career.
But through it, he found himself, stayed patient, and leaned on his support system and faith as he grew and battled through difficult times.
"Boy, it was difficult," Janacaro said. "You come here, you don't play for a whole year, and that turns into two, and you really question who you are as a person because we spend all of our time with football. You wake up, lift, go and practice, watch film — and sleep and school on top of that of course — but it's hard not to place your identity as a football player, and so when you're not performing the way that you would things get really tough.
"That's kind of when I leaned into that support system to pull me along and leaned on my faith, too. I was placing my identity in my sport and not in Christ and decided to make a change then to know that I'm more than a football player, and that really helped along with everybody else that supported me through the journey."
All of that paid off, as Janacaro began to see extended time on special teams in 2021, and last season cracked the rotation on defense, too.
But trials and tribulations continued for Janacaro and his family off the field, as his mother, Michaele, passed away on Thanksgiving Day in 2021 after a battle with cancer.
Through that tragedy — a difficult obstacle for any athlete to overcome — Janacaro remained rock solid and has grown through it all.
"The support system that I have from family and friends and my faith really helped me to overcome that, and everything that has come from her passing has helped me become things that I've prioritized in my life, faith, integrity, things like that," Janacaro said. "I think that she'd be really proud of what I've been doing, not necessarily as a football player, she'd be proud of that, too — she was my biggest fan — just more so the man that I've turned into.
"That's a testament to this program, too, and coach (Bobby) Hauck, what he preaches, what he drills into us, is football is hard. There's adversities and challenges with football and he pushes us to fight through that. He gives us a lot of adversity to see how we respond so we can improve those skills. He preaches that football is hard, but life is way tougher than anything that you'll experience in football, so if you could start to work on fighting through adversity here then it'll better suit you for when you're no longer in that locker room or on the field."
As a senior and bearer of UM's hallowed legacy No. 37 jersey, Janacaro is one of the faces of the program and a team captain for a Grizzly squad on the doorstep of a high playoff seed.
This season as a leader on UM's defense, Janacaro has 40 total tackles, 7.0 for loss, 2.0 sacks and the game-sealing fumble recovery against Idaho. For his career, Janacaro has 146 total tackles, 18.5 for loss, four sacks, a forced fumble and recovery, and two blocked punts, the first of which he also scored his lone career touchdown on back in 2021 against Cal Poly. In the classroom, Janacaro finished his degree in management information systems and will earn his MBA in December.
Football's adversities have prepared Janacaro for life's next steps, and through it all he's thrived for the team and city that has seen him grow every step of the way.
"From the highs and the lows, to all of the people that I've met, to the experiences that I've had, the relationships that I've built, I wouldn't trade it for anything," Janacaro said. "This has been the biggest blessing of my life and I'm just so grateful for everything that the coaches, my teammates, the community has done for me."