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Cory Procter, a former standout offensive lineman for the Montana Grizzlies who had a six-year NFL career, is a mountain of a man. In March, that man became a mountaineer. Procter was part of an expedition of NFL alumni and military veterans that hiked Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro. Dubbed “Conquering Kili,” the climb is part of the Waterboys Initiative, which is the cornerstone of Super Bowl champion Chris Long’s foundation. The aim is to raise awareness of water scarcity in Tanzania. Procter, who saw action as a true freshman on the Grizzlies’ 2001 national championship squad, now lives in Trophy Club, Texas, with his wife, Megan, and 2-year-old daughter, Grace. He finished up his psychology degree at UM in 2014. He recently sat down with the Montanan to discuss Kilimanjaro, the Cowboys and heavy metal.
Take us through your NFL career.
I signed a free-agent deal with the Detroit Lions in 2005. I didn’t make the team, but they kept me on the practice squad. I wasn’t part of the 53-man roster, and I got practice squad pay, but it was an opportunity to develop as a player. Plus I was available for other teams to sign. The great thing is that you’re not sitting around at home. Somebody in the organization thinks enough of you for you to take up a spot on their practice squad. We got blown out by Atlanta on Thanksgiving Day, and our coach was fired. The coach of the Cowboys, Bill Parcells, picked me up in Dallas for the last five games of that season.
What’s it like playing for the Dallas Cowboys?
I was primarily a backup, and I was on the active roster in ’05, ’06, ’07, ’08 and ’09. I started my first game in 2007. I filled in for Andre Gurode after he went down when Albert Haynesworth stomped on his head in Tennessee. My first start was against the Carolina Panthers. We ended up rushing for close to 300 yards. We killed them, and it was awesome. I had a really good game.
So Parcells tells you you’re starting. What’s going on in your head?
You’re freaking out a little bit, you know? You try to not let the emotions take a hold of you. But you’re all jacked, but nervous because you want to perform well. A million eyes are on you. So there’s lots of nerves. I went up against big ol’ Kris Jenkins. It was a helluva start on the road in Charlotte.
Take me through the next couple years.
In 2008, I started 13 games at left guard. It was up and down. That’s when I really got a taste of the politics of the league. They’re always looking for the next best thing. I was always proving myself. They brought in some guys to try to start over me. But I was performing pretty well. They were trying to search for reasons to get rid of me, and I wasn’t giving it to them.
In 2010, I got cut by Dallas, and a week later I ended up in Miami. The heat there is another story. I kid you not, I sweat a lot, and I lost 18 pounds in one practice there. Anyway, it’s a Thursday night game against Chicago. I’m starting. During the second series of the game, I ruptured my patella tendon. A complete severe of the tendon. My kneecap and quad roll up. Then it got infected. Five surgeries later, I was out of the league. The great thing about that was that I got to spend a lot of time with my wife when we were first married. It was a blessing in disguise. I learned how to rely on her.
So what’s the highlight of your NFL career?
My favorite memory was a Monday Night Football game, national TV, against Philly when Donovan McNabb was still there. It’s 2008, I’m starting, we run out of the big blow-up helmet and into the stadium. Huge crowd, the place was electric. It was a high-scoring game, and I just dominated. I had a kick-ass game. Everyone was pretty high on me then.
But the biggest takeaway was the friendships and relationships you build with your teammates.
So how did you get involved with the Waterboys Initiative?
The way I got hooked up with the Waterboys was through (former NFL player) David Vobora. We got to know each other through our philanthropy work with our jobs. Chris Long told him that he needed a Dallas guy to get involved with the Waterboys. One day Dave gives me a ring, and he says, ‘Do you want to go climb Kili?’
And I go, ‘What?’ I am not a mountain climber, right? I’d rather eat a burrito. I asked, ‘You want me to climb a legit mountain in Africa, a continent I’ve never been on? Hell yes! That sounds like an amazing trip.’
It was for a great cause, too. It was all about the clean water initiatives in Africa. We were going to Climb Kili to get funds raised and bring awareness to the issue. I was all in. Once I got the OK from my wife, I had to do it.
Tell us about the trip.
We went in March on a 10-day trip. The first couple days were spent meeting with the Tanzanian people and the Maasai Tribe. We also visited some water sites. One was already developed, and I saw the impact that it had on the local school. That was amazing to see.
Also, just seeing how these folks live. We have a complete bubble we live in, and you don’t realize it until you get out and see that these are primitive lands people are living in. When you get outside the city of Arusha, it is dirt roads. People walking their donkeys, goats everywhere. We followed these dirt roads forever, and we’d end up at a boarding school that is all open walls, no actual enclosed space. Maybe they have a fan if there happens to be electricity. And they live in a small group of huts where they have to worry about lion attacks. One of the guys we stayed with was showing us around and told us about this Maasai woman who was nabbed by a leopard. I was like, “Hold up. What? Say that again? You mean she was eaten?” She was out searching for water.
Put yourself in their place. Imagine waking up in your little hut of about 10 in a circle, surrounded by a fence of sticks and brush hoping to protect you from any attacks, and saying, “Alright, babe. You take the kids and go looking for water. I’m going to grab my spear and try to go find something to eat today.”
Also troubling is that Maasai women and daughters are being raped. They’re being preyed upon. And schools have send kids out to get water. The same issues face them. These are crazy problems stemming from a basic human necessity: water.
So we were trying to bring attention to and alleviate these issues. The need is incredible. Pictures, words and videos can only do so much. When you’re there and see how they live and see how much joy comes from giving – what that’s doing to save people – that really hits you deeply.
Take us up Mount Kilimanjaro.
It was awesome. It was hard. It was crazy. It was wild. All of the above. We were treated well. We carried our own packs, but porters were there to carry the extra bags. There was an army of these guys helping us, and it was still really hard after that. We had hiking boots and the latest REI gear. These guys are climbing this mountain in sandals made out of a tire.
Overall, it took six days. On the fourth day, we made it to Kibo Hut, which is base camp, midafternoon. The plan was to leave at 11 p.m. That was the hardest part of the climb. We left early. I guess people typically start at 2 a.m., but we left early because we had three disabled veterans with us. Ivan Castro is fully blind; and then we had Pete and Kirstie Ennis, who are both single-leg amputees – Pete below the knee and Kirsty above the knee, which makes a huge difference. She was amazing. She somehow lunged and dipped her whole way up the mountain.
But the goal is to get to Uhuru Peak by sunrise. That didn’t happen. It took us 10 hours to get to the top. That was a rough go. Elevation sickness is a real deal, man. It gets to you for sure and affects everyone differently. My energy was zapped. My heart was beating fast, it was hard to breathe and we had to stop a ton. We were wearing headlamps, and I thought the light was messing with my eyes a little bit because my vision was blurry.
So there’s this big crater on top of the mountain from when it erupted. I kept thinking we just have to get to the top of the crater, and we made it. We got to the the lip, and I see that we still have another mile hike to get up another 500-600 feet.
I was cleaning my glasses, and I realize my left eye is just blurred over, which happens when your brain swells because of the elevation. Blindness is a part of elevation sickness, and I was flirting with it. I felt drunk. It was a long, slow slope to get up Uhuru Peak.
We snapped pictures, took it all in, and it was amazing. But after that, it was a dead sprint to get down that mountain. I was done.
Have you wrapped your mind around this experience?
We had such a good group of people. We had players, vets, just everyone involved was great. We pitched each other crap all the time, and no one was offended, no hard feelings, no clashing of personalities. It was an awesome group.
It was special to be a part of that. I made some friends for life now. It puts a perspective on you that you could be doing more in your own little world to help somebody else. Not just your money, but your time and talents. Now I get to share this story and hopefully inspire people to get involved.
Tell us about Free Reign. How did you find yourself as the drummer in a heavy metal band?
I grew up with music. My dad is a big country music fan, and my mom is a big fan of the arts – mostly dance. She had a studio, and I helped with that a little bit. But because of that we would see a lot of shows and recitals. I got a lot out of it. I was involved in band in school, and I played percussion. I loved band.
So I put the sticks down until I got to Dallas, and that’s when I met [6-foot-8, 320 lbs.] Marc Colombo, who played guitar in a little metal band when he was in Chicago. He had a drum kit at his house. We would go there when his wife and kids were gone so we could be as loud as we wanted and sit there and make garbage music and just jam.
Then [6-foot-6, 355 lbs.] Leonard Davis got a bass as a gift from his wife, so we brought him in. He ended up bringing in Justin Chapman, an old high-school buddy.
All of a sudden we started getting some attention for our music. And it’s not like we tried. We were just screwing around. We played at a Dallas Cowboys family day and sounded awful. Then some other players asked us to play at their charity gigs at couple nice steakhouses in Dallas. We sounded a little better, but it was still garbage.
We played a gig at the Grenada Theater and ended up on "Good Morning Texas" and got a little better with each show. When you get together with a band and lock in and make some music, that’s a lot of fun.
What are you up to now?
I’ve been with a beverage company called Kill Cliff for three years now, wearing a lot of different hats with the company. I didn’t have any sales experience. I took a chance on them, and they took a chance on me. It’s come naturally to me. I didn’t want to be a salesman, so I didn’t act like one.
As of late, I’ve been doing a lot of speaking opportunities, which have ranged from local elementary schools to corporate events. I get a real big kick out of speaking and sharing my stories. I’ve worked with All-Pro Dad, which is a faith-based organization helping families. The coolest one that I had was at the Stronger Men’s Conference, which is also faith-based. It was the biggest ones I’ve done. About 7,000 bought tickets before the event, another 1,000 bought tickets at the door. It was powerful. I love that stuff. With a gathering like that, things can really get done.
John Heaney is the editor-in-chief of the Montanan. An Anaconda native, John graduated from UM in 2002 and took the helm of the Montanan in 2010. In between, he worked for the Missoulian, the Spokesman-Review, the Coeur d'Alene Press and the Anaconda Leader.