Back to the Gridiron: A Story of Community, Hard Work, and the Power of Mindset


The last game of Montana Tech’s 2022 football season is one that Coach Kyle Samson will tell his players about for many years to come. He might forget the details of the 49-6 blowout against the Northern Lights in Havre, Montana, but he’ll never forget the sound and overwhelming emotion as safety Isaiah Allik took the field.

The energy in the stadium was electric as Allik overcame two years of cancer treatment to join his teammates on the field.

“When he went into the game, it was a powerful moment,” Samson remembers. “For us as a team, it was an incredible moment. I can’t overstate the courage that he’s shown. Most people would have felt sorry for themselves or down about having cancer. Not Isaiah. It’s inconceivable the amount of positivity he brought to our team. A lot of people look to Isaiah when they are having struggles, because they know how Isaiah worked through his own.”

Allik was a standout athlete at Charlo High School. He placed third in state wrestling as a high school freshman in Alaska and earned a Montana state wrestling championship as well. He was an all-state performer in track and field, but it was the football team where Allik found his place among the Orediggers.

Allik’s first semester at Tech, Fall 2020, was met with a challenge that seemed benign at first. There was a lump on his hamstring that kept him from taking the field.

“I wasn’t able to do much of anything,” Allik remembers. The lump kept growing despite physical therapy. Allik couldn’t straighten his leg, and it was apparent something was wrong.

“He tried and tried and was working his butt off,” Samson said. “He just wasn’t getting any better.”

Allik went for an MRI, never thinking that his lump would be something life-threatening. Doctors came back and asked for a biopsy. The results showed a rare form of cancer, pseudomyogenic hemangioendothelioma.

Suddenly, Allik’s focus shifted. He withdrew from spring classes to engage in a full-time fight for his health. He worked with doctors in Kalispell to shrink the tumor for six months, but the biggest break came when Allik’s physicians were able to get his case before a board of doctors who specialize in tumor treatment. They agreed to take his case, and surgery was performed to remove the tumor.

“That changed the trajectory,” Allik said. “I could finally straighten my leg.”

Though distance separated him from his teammates, they were there in spirit.

Coach Samson started a GoFundMe, and word spread like wildfire across the state of Montana that Allik could use some support. Landers Smith, an Oredigger running back also from Charlo, started a fundraiser selling “Isaiah Strong” bracelets and shirts. The collective effort raised approximately $100,000 to help cover the costs of treatment.

Allik says it was a big help to know his parents would have fewer medical expenses for his care. As he started to recover, Allik returned to classes. He worked around medical appointments and continued to get good grades in the Business- Construction Management program. He also came to every practice he could to cheer his teammates on.

“I just wanted to be able to play football again,” Allik said.

Allik continued to grind toward his goal and eventually, just as the 2022 season was about to end, two years after his battle with cancer started, he returned to the field.

“That Northern game was so cool,” Allik said. “Everyone was cheering.”

Allik is preparing to take the field in the 2023 season, and Coach Samson has high hopes about what he’ll bring as an athlete after showing the team what it takes to overcome adversity. After watching Allik beat cancer, Samson knows the player has the right demeanor to excel and achieve far beyond the football field.

“For anybody in life, if you are going to get through something tough, you have to have the right attitude,” Samson said. “If you believe something, and you have the right mindset, you can achieve anything. You don’t meet too many people like Isaiah. I don’t think it will ever be quantified how much he helped us while going through all he’s been through.”