MISSOULA, Mont. -- Ty Timmer’s career at Montana took a different path than he’d hoped -- but it’s a success story nevertheless.
He had two primary goals “for as long as I can remember,” he said recently. The first one was to play college football. The second was to go to medical school.
He’s accomplished the second goal. He’s been accepted into the WWAMI program, which helps students from Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho pursue medical training. He begins his studies at Montana State this fall.
He accomplished his first too -- but injuries forced him off the playing field and into coaching instead.
Timmer suffered a devastating injury his junior season at Great Falls High School. He rehabbed and recovered, and was recruited as a linebacker by the Grizzlies for the 2009 season. Football was in his blood: His dad, Kirk, and uncle, Troy, had been football standouts for MSU.
In high school, “I was having a pretty good season and was mid-way through my junior year when I did a number on my [right] knee,” said Timmer. “I tore my ACL, LCL, meniscus, and hamstring tendons in a game on a kickoff, just kind of a weird angle thing. It was against Glacier High School and we were up 50-something to nothing.”
“I was done for the rest of the year. I was back for my senior year [when he was first team all-state and had 171 total tackles], but I really wasn’t 100 percent. I was kind of playing on one-and-a-half legs for a while, and I had a fairly productive year. But it wasn’t until I got to UM that my knee started feeling pretty good.”
In Montana’s 2010 season opener at home against Western State, Timmer, by then a redshirt freshman, was playing on defense. He went down with an injury, tearing his articular cartilage in the same knee.
“I was feeling great going into this season, and it wasn’t my ACL this time, but I ripped all of the cartilage off my bone,” he said. “There’s no blood flow there, so they did a micro-fracture surgery where they go in and drill holes through your bone in your bone marrow, which allows blood to come out and try to form new cartilage. But I had so much of it ripped off, that not all of it reformed. It was just bone-on-bone.”
At that time of his injury, Timmer, a 6-2, 235-pounder, was seeing action on special teams, and he was second on the depth chart at UM’s “mike” and “will” linebacker positions.
“It didn’t seem like that bad of an injury compared to the first one,” said Timmer, who now weighs in at 210. “But, in the long run, it proved to be worse. I waited a while to have surgery and tried to play in a couple of games and did some special teams stuff. But it just got to the point where I couldn’t do it. “
He had surgery right before Christmas break and came back to play the next season. “But it was the same thing -- I was constantly battling it, and I could only practice a couple of days a week,” he said. “I just couldn’t get over that hump.”
Despite the pain, as a redshirt sophomore he gave it one more shot and competed in 2011 spring drills. He didn’t miss many practices that spring, but by then he knew that his football playing days were numbered.
“I just had lost that ability to cut and move like you have to,” he said. “I felt like I was out there playing Division I football at 75 percent. I was able to do it, but I wasn’t near as effective as I needed to be. That’s when I knew it was time to hang it up.”
“It got to the point where, physically, he couldn’t play to the level that he wanted to play,” said Griz head coach Mick Delaney, who had recruited Ty’s dad and uncle to MSU when he was an assistant coach there under Sonny Lubick. “He came to us after his sophomore redshirt year and said he probably would not continue to play.
“Knowing Ty so well, I told him, ‘We’d love to keep you in our program. I just think you’re such a good person and role model that you would be valuable for us to have around.’ He agreed to help us as a student coach.”
“It was bittersweet,” Timmer said. “It wasn’t like having an acute injury and boom, you’re done. It kind of built up and I could see it coming.
“Coach ‘D’ [Delaney] and coach Ty [Gregorak] made it so much easier for me to make the transition. Coach Delaney offered me the chance to stay around and help coach. I thought I’d just have to turn away from football and move on.
“It [coaching) allowed me to keep football as part of my life. It also allowed me to focus more on the other aspect of my life -- to go to med school and become a physician.”
“He’s a young man whose dreams of playing may have been shattered, but he stayed 100 percent involved and continued on his career path. That’s what college athletics are all about.”
“It’s kind of crazy that he recruited both my dad and uncle,” Timmer said. “He recruited me as well. He wasn’t my main recruiter, but he was here. I’ve always had the utmost respect for him.”
Despite the fact that his uncle and both his parents played for the Bobcats -- his mom, Kelly (Angelos) at MSU -- Ty said he was happy with his decision to come to UM.
“My parents were very supportive of me coming here,” Timmer said. “It came down to this was a better place for me. I got good vibes from the coaches here. The coaches told me, ‘We know that you are injured, but still think you are a good player and we’re going to give you a shot.’ It was a tough decision. But, in the end, it was the right decision.”
Another new path in Timmer’s post-college life: his July wedding to Jessica Younggren [who he began dating his sophomore year in high school] in Great Falls. Officiating will be a familiar face -- Ty Gregorak, beside whom he’s played and worked for the past five years. Then, in August, Timmer heads off to medical school.
His dream of becoming a physician starts in August of 2014. The injuries and surgeries he’s had have made him even more committed to his goal -- and have given him personal insights that will help him as he pursues his studies.
“Med school has been a long-time goal,” he said. “Both my parents are involved in medicine [his mom is a nurse practitioner and his dad designs and sells sports rehabbing equipment]. So when I was young I had that interest. As long as I can remember I’ve said I wanted to become a doctor.”
Timmer’s own injuries and surgeries give him special insights into the medical field, but he is not sure what type of medicine he will eventually practice. Orthopedics, sports medicine or a related field are definite possibilities.
“I want to keep a tie to athletics somehow,” he said. “At the same time I want to keep an open mind. Most of the medical students I’ve talked to say you’re going to change your mind several times anyway.”
His first year of med school begins at MSU in Bozeman, followed by a year-long stint at Washington.
“With any luck I’ll be back here [in Montana] in my third year and part of my fourth year during clinical rotations,” he said. “One of the things that really attracted me to the WWAMI program is that you get to spend so much time in Montana.”
Athletics, he said, has built a good foundation for the hard work ahead -- and for life.
“I think that being a student-athlete was an advantage when it came to application time for med school,” he said. “It does make it tougher to maintain the grades and expectations required of you. But In the end, it’s a huge asset. It forced me to learn time management and hard work.”
It has been a long road for Ty both physically and academically to get where he is, and he still has a lot of work ahead. But, in a few years -- maybe somewhere in Montana -- there will be a sign outside an office that reads, “TY TIMMER, M.D.”
“He is a success story,” Delaney said. “He bought in from day one and just loves the University of Montana. He loves the Griz. He’ll be a Griz forever.”