A small, youth football crowd on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation was laughing.
Pint-size defenders were falling over – some colliding and tripping over their own feet – as they tried to corral an even smaller, slippery running back who turned about a half-dozen would-be tackles into a giggle reel.
The decade-old YouTube video “Jerry Louie-McGee: Watch and be amazed by a sixth-grader” was a vast collection of jukes, cuts and long touchdown runs on an 8-man football field in Plummer, Idaho.
“Still running! Still on his feet,” a play-by-play announcer said as Louie-McGee shimmied like a preadolescent Barry Sanders. “He’s still running!”
These plays continued when Louie-McGee’s family made the 30-mile move north from Worley to Coeur d’Alene, ultimately helping a much larger Lake City High School football program advance to the 5A state semifinals in 2014.
The 5-foot-9, 180-pound University of Montana speedster continues to zigzag around some of the stingiest defenses in the Football Championship Subdivision.
He’s one of the most electrifying players in the Big Sky Conference, and is among the top slot receivers and returners in the country.
“It’s been a blessing. A crazy adventure,” said Louie-McGee, whose 10th-ranked Grizzlies (5-2, 2-1 Big Sky) host rival Eastern Washington (3-4, 2-1) on Saturday. “To go from a walk-on to where I am today is pretty cool.”
Louie-McGee, a fifth-year senior, owns tradition-rich Montana’s school record in career receptions, hauling in 201 passes for 2,078 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“It’s pretty humbling, really,” he said. “There have been so many great receivers before me, like (ex-NFL player) Marc Mariani. I’m not on the same pedestal as those guys. I just came here to be the best, represent my family and some success came my way.”
He’s also been menacing on special teams, averaging 23.4 yards a kick return in his career and 18.6 yards a punt return, including three punts returned for touchdowns. He’s also rushed for a 64-yard touchdown.
Louie-McGee’s shifty, 81-yard punt return touchdown against Northern Iowa in 2016 is also a school record, and among the throngs of highlights that have turned Louie-McGee – commonly known as JLM among Grizzly fans – into a Treasure State favorite.
His flip over defenders into the end zone in a 2017 spring scrimmage earned him a spot on SportsCenter’s Top 10.
One of Idaho’s most successful high school football coaches – Van Troxel, who led the Timberwolves to 16 straight playoff appearances before retiring in 2016 – still scratches his head as to how Louie-McGee wasn’t offered a scholarship.
A year after walking on at Montana, Louie-McGee was a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award in 2016, given to the country’s top FCS freshman.
“They weren’t smart enough to give him a scholarship,” said Troxel, a former Montana quarterback whose son, Matt Troxel, has also played and coached for the Grizzlies. “But it ended up all working out.”
Louie-McGee and his brother, former Lake City quarterback Tucker Louie-McGee, were one of the most dangerous offensive combinations in the state.
Troxel, who coached dozens of NCAA Division I scholarship athletes during his lengthy career, dubbed Jerry Louie-McGee one of the top three players in Lake City football history.
“What everyone sees is his innate ability and speed, but what’s made him great is his work ethic,” Troxel said.
But genetics help.
His father, Wade, was an All-American running back at Haskell Indian Nations University in Kansas. His mother, Debbie, played basketball at Haskell.
Their three sons all went on to play college sports, including Tucker, who played football at Idaho State, and Kenny Louie-McGee, a former Lake City basketball standout who played at Wenatchee Valley College.
Jerry Louie-McGee points to his three recent head coaches in his development: Troxel, ex-Montana head coach Bob Stitt and current coach Bobby Hauck.
It was Troxel, he said, who initially helped mold him into a next-level player after running circles around defenders in 8-man football on the reservation.
“He’s awesome,” Louie-McGee said of Troxel. “He was a tough, old-school coach and it really prepared me for here.”
And coaches like Hauck have benefited from that preparation.
“There’s lots of things that are fun about coaching Jerry,” Hauck said. “He’s exciting to watch play. What you all don’t see is how hard he works in the weight room and on the practice field.”
Louie-McGee has also balanced the student-athlete life with fatherhood. His 13-month-old son Zayden was born during the 2018 season.
“He’s the most important thing in my life,” he said. “I love my son.”
Louie-McGee still remains focused on earning his first FCS playoff berth.
The Grizzlies have missed the last three playoffs, but Hauck appears to be righting the ship in his stint in Missoula, the first resulting in three national title game appearances and seven straight league titles.
“We still have a lot to prove,” Louie-McGee said. “We still have to play a lot of good teams. We have our heads down. We’re not looking in the media and taking it one step at a time.
“(Eastern Washington) a good team, with a good quarterback. If we play Montana, physical football and do what I know we can on offense and defense, it should be a good result.”
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