Riley Thurber and Keayen Nead sign their letters of intent

Riley Thurber and Keayen Nead sign their letters of intent.

Ever since Sugar-Salem alum Dylan Pope committed to University of Montana Western two years ago, Digger safety Riley Thurber has felt connected to Montana Western. Despite their difference in age, Thurber and Pope bonded on the field and became good friends before Pope graduated and headed out to UMW.

“When I was a freshmen, him and I got the chance to play with each other and he taught me about how to become a better player,” Thurber said. “Not only that, but how to become a better student at Sugar-Salem.”

Two years and two state championships later, and Pope and Thurber have remained connected.

As Pope has played for UMW this year Thurber has traveled to the college to watch several of Pope’s games before the team even began to recruit him.

“I really looked up to him in a lot of ways,” Thurber said. “For him to say, ‘hey, I’m playing at Montana Western, it would be awesome for you to come play.’ I think that had a lot to do with it. So, I was like, ‘yep, that’s the decision for me so why not.’”

Thurber’s familiarity with Pope and the campus made his visit a breeze.

“It was everything I thought it would be,” Thurber said. “Even before my official visit, I went up there tons of times to watch my good buddy Dylan Pope play. I knew the area pretty well so when they invited me up I was like ok great I know the area and it’s going to be awesome. It was amazing.”

On his visit, Thurber met with UMW coaches.

“They care about their players,” Thurber said. “They care about what they think and what they do. They really care about what they do in the classroom as well and they work them hard. They’re great coaches. There’s going to be great things coming to Montana Western pretty quick.”

On Wednesday, Thurber officially signed his letter of intent to play at Montana Western while sitting beside friend and teammate Keayen Nead.

“At the start of the year he (transferred from Rigby),” Thurber said. “I didn’t know much about him. I just knew he was a really good player for us. Then after a while I got to know him. He’s a really great guy. We become close. Not like close-close friends but pretty good. I got to know him pretty well so I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful for him and I hope he does really well.”

Thurber said he plans to play safety at UMW and said he has a 50-50 chances of playing or redshirting this year.

Overall, Thurber is excited for the opportunity but is sad he had to say no to Carol College, University of Southern Virginia and Eastern Oregon University who each recruited him.

“It’s a huge step forward,” Thurber said. “Getting recruited by all the coaches, which I’m grateful for, and saying, ‘ hey, I’m going a different route,’ was really hard for me because I built these relationships with these coaches that I didn’t want to end. But, obviously, I had to. Saying, ‘hey, I’m going to go this route,’ I hope everything is well.’ It’s awesome taking this step and opening a new chapter in my life. Being able to play at the next level. Not many people get to do that. I’m very grateful for this opportunity to be a part of something bigger. Something better. I’m really excited to get up there and become a better player and a better person.”

Weber needs Nead

Though Keayen Nead signed his letter at the same time as Thurber his decision was a process that took him right up until the day he signed.

Nead looked at the academics at ISU and felt that might be the place he wanted to go but the football program at Weber State Universtiy won him over.

“ISU is a great program with a lot of good coaches,” Nead said. “What really put me over the top? Honestly it was the brotherhood that we had at Weber. I just didn’t feel like there’s that connection between the coaches and I at ISU overall. There was an education system at ISU that I really looked into but when it came down to it, Weber had better facilities and a better program. Somethings that could bring me higher and honestly maybe even bring me to the next level of football and that’s what I’m looking for.”

Nead first felt that feeling when he went on his visit to Weber and the WSU coaches like Jay Hill were a big part of that.

“Being a recruit, of course they’re going to welcome you in with open arms but they were very persistent with me making sure they made me part of their recruiting process,” Nead said.

Nead plans to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before he plays at Weber and Hills experience as a returned missionary made Nead feel comfortable with Weber.

“I was able to talk with him a lot,” Nead said. “He’s a great guy. A returned missionary. Me going on a mission myself. He understands what it’s going to be like and explained to me how he’s going to get me back in the program when I return. I really appreciate that.”

Nead plans to play tight end for Weber when he returns. He loves the old railroad town of Ogden and is excited for the prospect of what’s coming next.

“Honestly, it’s taken a big weight off of my shoulders,” Nead said. “I know that I have a solidified future for the next six years planned out and I’m ready to go. I just have to get back on the grind and put in work and when I get back become the best student and player I can be.”