Posted: Sep 26, 2013 9:52 PM by Richie Melby - MTN News
Updated: Sep 27, 2013 7:37 AM
When the conversation comes to Montana State University football quarterback DeNarius McGhee, it's usually for his exploits on the football field, but that's not always the case.
The Bobcats QB is sensational on the field, but as the Bakke family of Havre learned, his biggest contributions sometime happen off the field.
Michael Bakke, 16, enjoys the sport of golf. "It's more relaxed, it's not such an intense sport to start the school year," explained Michael. "Especially when you're bummed about going back to school."
His younger brother Ryan spends the fall on the gridiron. "All of my friends play football," he said. "I've always played since like 4th grade."
Just two years apart, the Bakke brothers are competitive.
"I beat him in golf," Ryan beamed.
"Yeah, he's not that much better than me though," insisted Michael.
On the outside, Michael and Ryan are your everyday teenagers. But take a look on the inside, and you'll learn there is much more to the brothers' story.
Monday, August 11, 2013: the day Michael and Ryan's lives would be flipped upside down. Their father, Kris Bakke, passed away of a sudden and massive heart attack in the family's home. He was 45.
"It was hard to believe when it first happened," said Ryan. "It was just kind of a shock because nothing was really wrong before."
"We were in shock, it was a big surprise," Michael would add. "Nothing seemed wrong. He came home from Kmart with a bag full of clothes and..."
And things would never be the same. Kris Bakke was well known in the Havre community: an avid hunter, fisherman and employee of the city parks. He would leave behind a family of four, which was quickly surrounded by loved ones near and far.
"We had so many family and friends coming to our house," said Michael. "There was so much love toward our family at that time, it helped us out."
One of those family members was Jeff Bondy, the associate director of residence life at Montana State University. Shortly after Kris' passing, Uncle Jeff was to take Michael and Ryan on a float trip near Bozeman. But he surprised them with the unexpected.
"He said, 'I better call DeNarius McGhee and see if he's still down to hang out with you guys after this.' We were like 'what?!'" recalled Michael. "We floated the river and then we went there and it was the coolest thing."
"When we first met him, he showed up riding his bike to practice with all of his gear on," said Ryan. "He's a big guy, he doesn't look that big on TV but when you see him in person, he's just big."
On this particular Saturday, McGhee would spend his time right here on the sideline after suffering that separated shoulder, but he says when it came to the Bakke family, there was no doubt he wanted to help.
"I can't really explain the feeling that I had that day, because that's extremely devastating that you lose your father," he said. "I know my father is a great part of my life, with the advice he gives me and the things he does for me each and every day.
"For them to lose that man in their life, has to be a tough thing so I tried to do anything I could for those kids."
It was the experience of a lifetime for the two young Bobcat fans. Michael and Ryan were each star struck standing next to the hero they had seen so many times on TV.
"I almost couldn't believe it. We were walking around on the field and he was telling us about himself," said Michael. "It was just really cool."
McGhee showed his big heart immediately, taking off his cleats, autographing them, and handing them to the Bakke boys.
"That is true," laughed McGhee. "Materialistic things man, if you can give anything away, anything I can give away, especially for guys like that who had something happen in their lives, I'm going to do it for sure."
McGhee got the entire Bobcat team involved. Michael and Ryan took in the MSU practice, received a tour around campus and were greeted by every member of the Bobcat football team. For one defensive back, the Bakke boys' story was all too familiar.
"My situation was kind of rough because I actually watched my father pass away. He was shot and I watched that happen," said MSU defensive back James Nelson. "He died later on that night.
"When DeNarius told me about these kids, it just hurt because I hate for someone younger than me to go through the same exact thing."
James Nelson spent extra time with Michael and Ryan, sharing his own story of growing up without a father. Just five years removed from his own father's death, he told the Bakkes the best advice he could offer, was to look to a higher power.
"I told them to get into church and make sure their heavenly father is very active in their life," he said. "They may not have a father present they can touch, but you can always have a father to talk to and that's your heavenly father."
It's a teenager's dream to meet the athletes they grow up watching on TV. For Michael and Ryan, it was much more.
"Probably that little bit of closure," explained Michael. "Just knowing that this will get easier and there are people out there to support you through it."
It has been less than two months since Kris passed away and the Bakke family is still in grieving. But for one day in Bozeman, Michael and Ryan were once again allowed to be teenagers, free of tragedy and heartbreak. They may move on with their lives, but their father is in the back of their mind, every step of the way.
"I'm excited to go on and do the things my dad wanted me to do," said Michael. "Play basketball, go to college and just do everything he wanted me to do."
"We talked about how if we needed to, my brother and I could take over things, help each other out with that. Just live the life he would want us to live," Ryan added.
As for McGhee and Nelson, their big hearts continue to impact others. This isn't the first time MSU's quarterback has reached out to those dealing with tragedy or handicap. He says it is those instances which offer more reward than any touchdown or championship ever could.
"The thing is, we have been given a lot of talent," said McGhee, "and being in the situation we are, we want to do whatever we can for the younger kids so that whenever they are in our position, they are able to look after the younger kids as well. It's just being a role model and doing things for others.
"It's not all about ourselves and it's not all about this game. I learned quickly that this game can be taken away from you, but it's the relationships that you have with people."