Beating the odds: Montana senior OL Kordell Pillans completes rare trip from Alaska to Division I football | UM Grizzly

MISSOULA – Kordell Pillans didn’t really have a concrete path to follow when pursuing college football while growing up in remote Alaska.

The list of players who continued to play football beyond high school was small and came from Kodiak, Alaska, with its population of around 6,000. In fact, Pillans would be the first person from Kodiak to play Division I football on a scholarship.

He found the courage to travel from Alaska to Arizona, where his trip nearly derailed with an MCL tear in his knee in his second season at Mesa Community College. After three years there, he picked Montana out of four FCS offers and ended up playing 19 games, making three starts on the offensive line and starting on the goal protection unit over three seasons.

Pillans’ pioneering journey opens a possible path for others and has taught him a lot about himself and what he is capable of.

“You just have to keep going,” he said. “You can’t stop. You can’t stop. That’s why I came back for this last year. I wouldn’t have felt good if I had walked away after the COVID hit. I had to continue. I think it can be applied to anywhere in life. You can never stop because then you are done.

Davis Lowery, who was Pillans’ defensive coordinator at Kodiak High School, felt Pillans had what it takes to play DI football. He got to see the work ethic that Pillans learned from his family full of blue collar workers.

On the pitch, Lowery was impressed with Pillans’ quick feet and versatility between playing on the offensive and defensive lines. He has seen his share of high-quality soccer players while spending time coaching in a talented Florida and leading Title One Sports Corp., a non-profit organization that helps recruit college footballers.

Lowery is equally impressed that Pillans has already graduated with a sociology degree and is working on another communications degree. It’s something to admire coming out of an isolated high school with an enrollment of around 600 students, who often have to be prepared to move away from home for a high-level college education.

“There were people in and around the school and around town who said it would never make it,” Lowery recalls. “It’s that barrel crab mentality. I think the naysayers fueled him and improved his chances a lot. He’s such a respectful and very kind person, so I always thought he had these things to go wherever he wanted to go. He wanted to not just talk about dreaming, but to work at it. He overcame all obstacles.

Pave a path

While in Montana, Pillans spent time at home working with Gideon Craig, a Kodiak player who went on to play NAIA college football at Madonna University in Michigan.

Pillans making his way to college can set an example for Kodiak gamers on what is needed to pull off the feat. It’s a long way to get a Division I football scholarship, but it can be an even steeper climb from Alaska.

“I would love for the kids to watch me as a guide on what they can do,” he said. “Just because you are on this island does not mean that you are doomed not to be able to continue playing football. We had a lot of kids doing it in track and field, in swimming, but a lot less in football.

Football is a physical sport that takes time. Add to that the fact that the travel required for games in Alaska can make Montana playoff road trips seem like a cinch.

Kodiak would depart Wednesday night for an approximately 14-hour ferry ride to Homer, Alaska. Then it’s a bus ride of at least four hours to Anchorage. Then there is another bus ride of at least six hours to Fairbanks. Then there is a short 15 minute drive to North Pole High School for a Saturday morning soccer game. Along the way, they stopped in high schools to spend the night in their wrestling halls. Then it was a similar return trip, returning home Monday afternoon.

The number of trips can limit the practice time. Getting quality coaches could be hit and miss. College recruiters also didn’t arrive normally due to the immense travel required in a state that only produced 13 NFL players.

Pillans got help from his family, going on a recruiting trip to Oregon to help publicize his name there. He also received quality coaching from Lowery, who he says helped him off the pitch with the college approach as much as on the pitch with football. It was an important relationship for him while going through three head coaches in four years.

“I’ve met a lot of kids, more than usual, who were like, ‘I can’t do this because,'” Lowery said, stopping for the effect. “I think seeing Kordell go through that and come out with two degrees and go and get his college degree, leave the island and go out and do as well as he did, he showed you can beat the odds in this. kind of culture, that remote location and the aura that surrounds it. He had everything against him and never cared. “

Blue collar

Pillans was thrilled to see the Kodiak football program grow while he was at Mesa and UM.

There were 23 seniors who stepped out for the squad in 2020 which would be the most in the history of the program. Pillans remembers there were around 20 players in college in his senior season.

“Watching the program go on unexpectedly, get people to come out and get them to play this game, it’s great to see that,” he said. “I really hope this will continue because I think it’s good for these guys. That they have the opportunity after high school is good for them.

Pillans has learned a lot about hard work on the football field. He also learned this off the pitch, watching his father and stepfather work in the commerce industry, which he plans to get into.

His father, Scott Pillans, owns his own heating and plumbing business. His stepfather, David Wright, works in heavy equipment operating on maritime docks. Pillans sees himself following a similar path, as a plumber, electrician or lineman working on power lines. He just doesn’t see himself sitting at a desk eight hours a day.

“His dad owned his own business, and whenever you’re around that kind of thing, the world isn’t that scary,” Lowery said. “It makes you kind and fearless when it comes to meeting people. Kordell doesn’t have this problem. One of the best kept secrets is that he is a caring person with a big heart.

Pillans could see himself staying in Missoula for a while or living somewhere on the West Coast. He came to love Missoula, and he sold it quite well when he helped convince fellow offensive lineman AJ Forbes to sign up with the Griz.

There might also be high school football coaches in Pillans’ future.

“It would be cool to go out there and influence the kids and help them find their way with their way and what they’re going to do and how they’re going to live their life,” he said. “It would be very satisfying. “

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