MISSOULA — Clifton McDowell wasted no time in making his presence felt for the Montana Grizzlies.
He did just that as he engineered the offense with his running ability, as he finished with 80 rushing yards and one touchdown as he got his first game day experience under his belt with the Grizzlies.
"It was just a surreal feeling just getting out there and seeing all of the fans and the stadium was real nice and packed, it was something good to see and play with," McDowell said. "Normally, when guys talk about it and stuff, it don't really live up to the hype, but it really did live up to what everybody was talking about."
It was an opportunity McDowell didn't take for granted, thanks in large part to his long, winding college football journey.
The Spring, Texas, native joined UM in the spring after a stint at Central Arkansas. Montana is McDowell's fourth school as he's searched for the right spot in his career.
"It means a lot," McDowell said. "A lot of guys that would probably be in my position probably wouldn't be here right now so just very grateful."
McDowell started his college career at Louisiana in the FBS, but tragedy struck when D.J. Looney, an assistant coach who helped recruit McDowell to Lafayette, passed away during a team practice that McDowell was at.
And the mental trauma from that unforeseen passing was palpable for McDowell.
"It was a very catastrophic event, I'll say that," McDowell said. "Seeing somebody pass away in person at practice, it took a toll on me, but I was able to bounce back from it. It was a little rough at first trying to keep going and trying to keep my head on, but it did fuel the fire a little bit."
McDowell needed a change soon after, and he went to junior college in Texas at Kilgore College for a year before heading to Central Arkansas.
He then grad transferred to Montana and quickly found a home with the Grizzlies.
Guided deeply by his faith, McDowell has stayed grounded through the ups and downs.
"God," McDowell answered when asked how he's been able to persevere in his career. "Steady, having faith, faith over fear. Ever since I was little going to church everyday with my grandma on Sundays."
All of that has led him to the mountains of Missoula, something McDowell said he's still getting used to after moving to Montana from the southern United States, not to mention his excitement to possibly play in the snow someday.
"It was definitely eye-opening," McDowell said about arriving to Missoula. "I'm still trying to get used to the mountains and stuff but just a real culture shock for sure.
"Being everywhere I've been, everywhere I've been at (we) won a ring, so trying to continue that tradition."
And in his first major minutes on the field, McDowell shined and came through clutch, and now hopes to use his journey as fuel to help the Griz find more success.
"Just taking other experiences that I had at other places and just being better in the moment here I would say," McDowell said. "Staying level-headed. Just have to keep going and keep fighting and keep working and the work is going to show."