Jake Dennehy back on court for Bulldogs

Watching the Butte High boys’ basketball play Butte Central earlier this month was more than Jake Dennehy could bear.

The Butte High senior was playing the role of spectator because of a nasty shoulder injury suffered during the football season.

Even though he gave up playing linebacker and focused on kicking for the Bulldogs, Dennehy’s shoulder popped out of the socket about 20 times during games and practices throughout the season.

That made him realize that it also wasn’t a good idea to play basketball with the shoulder injury that will be surgically repaired after track season.

Seeing the Bulldogs lose to the Maroons 49-41 on Jan. 10 was just insult to injury.

“I think the Butte High-Butte Central game put me over the edge,” Dennehy says of the Jan. 10 game at the Butte Civic Center. “It’s a lot more fun playing than sitting in the stands.”

So, Dennehy is doing something about that. He’s trading in his street clothes for a Bulldog uniform and making a comeback.

The 6-foot-3 Dennehy will make his season debut Saturday at Great Falls High. He finished the 10 practices necessary to take the court this week.

“I’ll just give it a go and see what happens,” Dennehy says.

Butte fans don’t need to be introduced to Dennehy. Since he booted the Butte High to the Class AA State championship in football, he’s been a household name in the Mining City.

Dennehy kicked a 46-yard field goal as time expired in Butte High’s 38-36 win over Bozeman in the Nov. 16 championship game in front of a packed house — and then some — at Naranche Stadium.

“Everybody in town knows who I am now,” Dennehy says with a laugh. “Me and my buddies go out and everybody knows who we are. We kind of have to act more decent. We can’t do anything wrong when everybody knows you.”

Dennehy’s kick, which came 22.9 seconds after Bozeman took the lead after scoring 15 points in less than a minute to take a 36-35 advantage, gave Butte High its first State title since 1991.

“It came off my foot good, but it started spinning crazy about halfway through,” Dennehy says. “All my kicks kind of have a natural hook left. It started spinning crazy. It’s a good thing it did because I don’t think I had the leg if it didn’t.”

As he watched the ball sail toward the storybook, Dennehy wasn’t sure if it was going to make it.

“Looking at the game film you see my reaction,” he says. “Right as I kicked I looked up and put my hands up in the air. Then I went to my helmet because I didn’t think I had the leg. Then it went through. When it went through was the first time I thought it was good.”

Then, like the rest of Bulldog Nation did, Dennehy went berserk as the officials raised their arms.

“I took off running,” he says. “I didn’t realize what I was doing. I started running toward the Bozeman student section. Coach (Mike) Schmidt was the first one to grab me. He was screaming, ‘Don’t fall down. You’ve got 8,000 people running after you. Don’t fall down.’ They had me pinned up against the fence, and everybody was jumping on top of me and stuff. It was pretty fun.”

Reliving the kick is something Dennehy does pretty much every day. It’s also something he’ll probably never get tired of hearing about.

“I watched the game the other night,” he says. “I popped the DVD in and watched it again. It never gets old.”

It will never get old to Bulldog fans, either.

“I get little kids coming up to me and giving me high fives now,” Dennehy says. “I signed a lot of autographs.”

Stories circulated through town of standing ovations and offers to pay for meals when Dennehy visits local establishments. That might not have happened as much as people say, but it has happened.

“Some lady bought me my lunch at the Derby the other day,” he says with a laugh.

The M&M Cigar Store has two dollar bills taped to the cash register at the bar. One, a memento from the huge championship celebration in Uptown Butte, has “Jake Dennehy drinks for free” written on it in marker.

“I went up there and saw that. That’s pretty neat,” Dennehy says. “I might have to wait a couple years before I can use that.”

What many Bulldog fans might not realize, however, was that other than the “Kick Heard ‘Round Montana,” Dennehy’s senior football season was a lost one.

Dennehy, who entered the season with aspirations of playing college football, injured his shoulder during the season-opening win over Great Falls Russell at Naranche Stadium.

The shoulder came out of socket twice in that game. He played the next week on the road at Billings Skyview anyway.

“I played 15 plays, and my shoulder came out three times,” Dennehy says of the game in Billings.

Still, Dennehy took his duties as a captain seriously. As the team got fired up before games, nobody was ever more fiery than No. 12 for the Bulldogs.

“It wasn’t the way I planned on my senior year going,” he says. “If anything else, I turned into a cheerleader on the sideline.”

From the Skyview game on, Dennehy was  basically a kicker and a punter from Butte High for a team that rarely kicked or punted.

Dennehy’s championship-winning kick was just his second field goal of the season.

“With the offense we had, we didn’t need to, really,” Dennehy said. “Coach Schmidt, our offensive coordinator, believed that we had a good chance of making it on fourth down than we did at making a field goal. He thought 80 percent of the time we’d convert.”

When he did kick, the results weren’t always great.

In the semifinal win over Great Falls, the difference in the game turned out to be Dennehy’s extra point in overtime. The kick, which went to the same west goalpost as his legendary boot six days later, almost missed low.

“It went through, though,” Dennehy says. “That’s the important thing.”

Early in the championship game, Dennehy had a low extra-point attempt blocked.

He also lost his punting job briefly during the middle of the season.

“Coach (Arie) Grey said I was the best inconsistent kicker he’s ever had, or something like that,” Dennehy says. “I didn’t punt the ball after that for a while.”

When the title was on the line, though, Grey never hesitated.

“Bozeman made it (2-point conversion) and he said, ‘Kicking net, go.'” Dennehy remembers. “I was over there kicking in the kicking net. Everyone let me be. Then (Grey said) ‘Field goal.’ I was like, “Alright, here we go.’ I just kind of ran out there. I knew it was coming. I knew Coach Grey would throw me into that situation. He had faith in me to hit that.”

The football injury wasn’t the first time Dennehy was relegated to a role as cheerleader for the Bulldogs by a freak accident.

Playing quarterback for his sophomore team, Dennehy broke his right arm while converting a game-tying 2-point conversion in a game the Bulldogs ultimately lost to Skyview.

“I took off running, I went over a kid and put my arm down to lunge into the end zone,” Dennehy says. “Somebody else got a helmet to the back of it. I got into the end zone, though.”

Doctors reset the badly-broken arm, but it didn’t get better.

“Two months later they found out the soft tissue in the nerve was trapped inside the ulna bone, so it wasn’t healing right,” he says. ” It was 10 percent healed two months later, when it should be almost all the way healed.”

So Dennehy underwent surgery that made him miss his entire sophomore season of basketball. During games, Dennehy helped keep stats or anything else he could do to help his teammates.

“You feel like you’re part of the team though,” he says of sitting on the bench during games. “I got my 2 cents in with Coach (Jim) Konen. I learned a lot, especially that year. We had a good year.”

Dennehy also learned a valuable lesson in how to reset a dislocated shoulder that season. Senior guard Timmy Dick had a shoulder that popped out of socket just about every practice and every game.

“I was the one popping his shoulder in for him,” Dennehy says. Dick would often run into the hallway outside the Richardson Gym during practice. He’d use the ball rack and Dennehy to get his arm back in place.

“Right over the ball rack,” Dennehy says. “He was like, ‘Jake, just pull on it.'”

If that sounds a bit barbaric — like Riggs on Lethal Weapon — it’s because it is.

“It works, though,” says Dennehy, whose shoulder pops out the back. “It’s such a relief when it goes back in.”

Despite the injury, Dennehy competed in track during his sophomore season. He threw the discus left handed and was the No. 2 thrower on the team with a toss of 110 feet. His best right-handed is 148 feet.

The next season, Dennehy started on the varsity basketball team last season and played in every one of the Bulldog games.

He wasn’t much of a scorer — he never scored more than five points in a game — but he was solid on defense and on the boards.

First-year coach Terry Hauser is excited to get him back in the fold. He says Dennehy doesn’t have to be a big-time scorer.

“Rebounding. Defense. Competition in practice. Physical play. More subs,” Hauser says when asked what Dennehy will bring to the Bulldogs. “I can have an eight-man rotation instead of a seven-man rotation and I can get them out more often. My guys get tired with the seven-man rotation. He’ll be good. He’s a leader, too. He plays hard.”

Hauser expects to throw Dennehy into the fire on Saturday.

“I have a feeling I’m going to play him quite a bit,” the coach says. “I’m not going to play him 30 minutes or anything. Maybe 20 minutes.”

As a result of the nerve injury from the broken arm as a sophomore, Dennehy has no feeling in the pinky of his right hand. He said that threw off his shot last season. That shot is much better this year, Dennehy says.

“It’s coming back a little bit,” Dennehy says. “I’m getting used to it, is the main thing.”

Dennehy will wear No. 00 this year. The No. 12 jersey he wore last year — the same number he wore during his historic kick — now belongs to sophomore Killian O’Leary, who is an emerging star for the Bulldogs.

“I don’t think it’s really fair, me coming back halfway through the  season and stealing my number,” Dennehy says. “He’s representing the number well right now. He’s playing well.”

Ending the basketball season in the same storybook fashion as the football season isn’t out of the question, either, Dennehy says. Even though the team is 2-9 and it lost five straight, Dennehy sees potential under Hauser, the first-year head coach.

“We have some talent on that team,” Dennehy says. “We’ve been playing with the best teams in the state lately. It’s just a couple 2-minute lapses when they go on like an eight-point run, it just kills us. A little chemistry, a little hard work and the State championship … we can run at it.

“If you win your playoff game, you’re golden.”

Dennehy no longer has college football aspirations. The grandson of long-time Butte High boys’ track coach Charlie Merrifield, Dennehy will instead focus on track in college. He’s already talked to Montana State, even though his sister, Keli, runs for the University of Montana.

Keli Dennehy, who was a key component to Butte High’s 2009 state title in girls’ track, also spends a lot of time in Missoula answering questions about her brother’s historic kick.

“I think she’s enjoying it more than I am, honestly,” Jake Dennehy says. “She’s had people over in Missoula asking, ‘Is that your brother who made that kick?’ She’s loving every second of it.”

Jake Dennehy, who like his sister is a 4.0 student and a valedictorian, said he’s thinking about putting his high school experience to use in college.

“I was thinking pre-med,” he says. “With my arm and everything it got me interested in orthopedic surgery.”

One thing he most likely won’t be doing in college is kicking a football. Even though he booted the biggest kick in Mining City sports history, Dennehy didn’t get any scholarship offers as a kicker.

Apparently those college coaches have seen the cash register at the M&M.

“We’ve got great fans here,” Dennehy says. “They’re even better fans when we’re winning. If you look at that DVD that Pat Kearney did, the first couple games the stands were pretty full. We start winning and they get fuller and fuller. The championship game, you couldn’t get in. It was unreal.”

The Kick

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