Never Give Up

Piinomaatskoo”sit’  

(Never Give Up)  

Tommy’s journey to college athletics

Story by Ethan Jamba and Chris Lodman. Photos by Chris Lodman.

Enlarge

BF_Tommy_RGB8
Tommy Running Rabbit signed with the University of Montana college football team in December 2023. He is the first recruit from the Blackfeet Indian Reservation to get a football scholarship to play for the Grizzlies

In his family home in Browning, Montana, Tommy Running Rabbit entered his room, adorned with sports posters, memorabilia, and an Xbox.  

He picked up one of his favorite keepsakes, a football signed by the 2014 University of Montana Grizzlies. He got the ball at a time when he and his two brothers, Isiah and Randy, were in the foster care system living at children’s shelter in Missoula. 

It has been a lifelong dream of his to play football for the Griz. That day, when the Montana football team signed that football, marked a pivotal moment in Running Rabbit’s life, a newfound aspiration to play football at the collegiate level. 

“He had seen all the big Griz football players and he said he wanted to be one, now he is,” Running Rabbit’s oldest sister, Milyn Lazy Boy, said.  

“Now I am,” Running Rabbit said. 

On Dec. 20, 2023, Running Rabbit signed with the Griz as the first Blackfeet citizen to be recruited on a football scholarship, representing a town that has been widely known for its cross-country and basketball athletes. 

Lazy Boy has helped raise her brothers, including Tommy, since 2017. She took them in after her husband inherited a house from his mother, which was passed down from his great-grandmother. The boys lost their mother and their father has been out of the picture since an early age. 

“My family are my biggest supporters,” Tommy Running Rabbit said. 

Enlarge

BF_Tommy_RGB12
Sandy Spang recounts a story about her father putting up wooden poles for power lines that sent electricity to Ashland in the early 1940s.

Running Rabbits draw to sports started from a young age, playing tackle football with his brothers around town. 

“I remember this one time when I was younger, I think I was in first grade and he was in kindergarten,” said Isiah Running Rabbit, Tommy’s brother. 

Enlarge

BF_Tommy_RGB5
Sandy Spang recounts a story about her father putting up wooden poles for power lines that sent electricity to Ashland in the early 1940s.

“We played football with our friends in the backyard of his house. We would play tackle or two on tap, but mostly tackle with no gear. I remember this one time I pushed him, and I thought he was going to cry, but he started laughing about it, and then all of us started laughing about it. And that was like one of my fond memories about him.” 

Enlarge

BF_Tommy_RGB10
Tommy Running Rabbit, left, his friend Skyler Nez, middle, and his brother Isiah Running Rabbit begin their school day at Browning High School with an American government course with Mr. Castle.

Going through high school, Tommy and his brothers always pushed themselves to get better at their specific sport. Tommy’s path led him to football, Isiah chose track and field, and Randy chose to focus on basketball. 

Enlarge

BF_Tommy_RGB13
Sandy Spang recounts a story about her father putting up wooden poles for power lines that sent electricity to Ashland in the early 1940s.

Outside of family support, Tommy and his brothers had the community support pushing them to get better. Jerry Racine, Tommy’s football coach for his freshman and sophomore years, helped to push them along by offering the brothers workout programs along with access to the Blackfeet Wellness Center. 

“I trained him with older kids to make him that much more better,” Racine said. 

Enlarge

BF_Tommy_RGB14
Sandy Spang recounts a story about her father putting up wooden poles for power lines that sent electricity to Ashland in the early 1940s.

During Tommy’s sophomore and junior years, Racine would prepare him to attend summer football camps, which led him closer to his dreams of becoming a collegiate athlete. 

“Every player that we recruit immerses himself into the football team, and the culture of the team is toughness, discipline, work ethic and character,” said Bobby Hauck, the University of Montana’s head football coach. “Those are the four core principles of this football team, and we don’t bring guys in that we don’t think espouse those, and this young man does.”  

Enlarge

BF_Tommy_RGB2
Sandy Spang recounts a story about her father putting up wooden poles for power lines that sent electricity to Ashland in the early 1940s.

A SPECIAL PROJECT BY THE UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM

ADDITIONAL FUNDING SUPPORT FROM THE GREATER MONTANA FOUNDATION

READ MORE: