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A 22-year-old University of Montana Western football player, Mark Simkins Jr., perished in a Dillon house fire early Tuesday morning.

Chief Darrin Morast of the Dillon Fire Department said fire crews responded to Simkins’ residence at the 500 block of Glendale Street around 12:30 a.m. after two roommates arrived at the three-bedroom home to find that a portion of the house was on fire.

When fire crews arrived, Morast said, the roommates had already dragged Simkins from the house and police were performing CPR.

Simkins was later transferred by ambulance to Barrett Hospital and HealthCare, where he was pronounced dead.

Morast said the fire was confined to a bedroom in the home and that the blaze took about 30 minutes to put out. Although the fire was confined to one room, much of the house has smoke damage, the fire chief said.

The news reverberated through the community of Dillon. Simkins graduated from Beaverhead County High School. Head high school football coach Rick Nordahl called Simkins' death "a heartbreaking loss" for the community.

“He was a captain on my first football team (as head coach at Beaverhead County High), and he was just such a great leader. The way he worked with the younger kids … he left his mark with our program, for sure,” Nordahl said.

Simkins had just finished his junior year at Western. He had 19 tackles and two interceptions while playing in eight games last season for Western. He was likely to take on a larger role at safety in his final season.

“He built himself into what he was. He really took the time in the offseason in the weight room. He was the type of kid that had that work ethic. He made himself the best player he could be, it didn’t matter if it was football, basketball, baseball or wrestling when he was younger. He was just a very gifted athlete, but he put the time into all the programs," Nordahl said.

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined and is being investigated by a fire marshal, Morast said.

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