BILLINGS AND WORDEN — For four years, Nolan Askelson and Gabe Sulser were teammates on the football field at Billings Senior.
Now, they're college rivals. Well, friendly ones at least.
"I just told Nolan not to hurt me when I come across the middle," Sulser said on Wednesday.
Sitting next to his teammate in a classroom at Senior, Askelson said, "I said I'd only do that if he didn't break my ankles."
Spoke with the Class AA Offensive MVP (@GabeSulser7) and Defensive MVP (@nolanaskelson40) about their commitments to @MontanaGrizFB and @MSUBobcatsFB. The duo has led Senior to 26 straight wins and two titles (and their college rivalry is budding) #mtscores #GrizFB #THEVIS18N pic.twitter.com/UvkLaKC3lE— Kyle Hansen (@GazSportsHansen) December 20, 2017
College football fans were given an early Christmas present on Wednesday when the early signing period for high school recruits commenced around the country. National Signing Day is Feb. 7.
The early signings, of course, merely excite fans everywhere about what their respective teams will look like heading into next season with this new talent.
For Montana's biggest programs, Montana and Montana State, three local players put pen to paper and signed their letters of intent to make their college football commitments official at the FCS level.
Sulser is headed to the Griz while Askelson is going the opposite direction and joining the Bobcats. Askelson will be joined in Bozeman by Huntley Project's Lane Sumner.
"I've got to watch myself now I know that No. 2 is on the other side," Sulser said, referencing Askelson's jersey number. "He can put a hurt on guys pretty quick. I think it'll be a friendly rivalry. Obviously, in the game it'll be intense, but we'll still take it lighthearted and joke about it here and in the years to come for sure."
"Gabe's obviously an amazing player and I've always been on his team so it'll be interesting to play against him," Askelson added. "See what coaches say about him and how they try to scheme up against him. So it'll be fun for sure."
Of the trio, Askelson was the first to make his verbal commitment, joining the Cats back in April. The senior made the transition to quarterback this year for the Broncs where he thrived in a stellar final high school season. Askelson finished by completing 209 of his 315 passes for 2,469 yards and 27 touchdowns to just six interceptions. As the team's workhorse, he also carried the ball 193 times for 831 yards and 12 scores.
It doesn't end there. Defensively, Askelson led the Broncs in tackles with 127, including 13 tackles for loss, also a team-high. He was second on the team in sacks with seven and grabbed a pair of interceptions as well.
For his efforts, Askelson was named the Class AA Defensive MVP. He was first team all-state at quarterback and linebacker as Senior went 13-0 and won its second consecutive Class AA state championship. The Broncs winning streak currently sits at 26 games, a school record and seven games short of Helena Capital's Class AA record of 33 games.
"I picked Bozeman mainly because they have what I want to study," said Askelson, who wants to study chemical engineering. "Another big reason was the coaches. They were all really great guys and they really show that they care about each and every one of their players. They're working on something really good up there and they're definitely on the rise and it's just something that I want to be a part of."
Sulser was just awarded with the state's top football honor in Gatorade Montana Football Player of the Year. Sulser verbally committed to the Griz back in July. His sister, Morgan, is currently on UM's track and field team and his father, Mark, played football for the Griz from 1986-89.
A four-year starter for the Broncs, Sulser has been performing at a high level since the minute he stepped on campus. In his senior campaign, Sulser caught 85 passes for 1,109 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also ran the ball 106 times for 997 yards and 16 scores. Sulser was awarded the AA's Offensive MVP and was named all-state at receiver and corner, while also gathering honorable mention as a kickoff returner and a punter. He racked up 26 tackles and grabbed three interceptions this season including one in the end zone late in the state championship to halt a Helena drive.
"I just really like Montana because, obviously I had family that went there and grew up there, so that was kind of the big part for me. I just really felt at home when I chose to go to Montana," Sulser said. "The traditions there are pretty cool, too, and it also has what I want to study."
Sumner will join Askelson and former Huntley Project Red Devil Michael Jobman in the Montana State program. Committing in August, Sumner was an all-state running back and linebacker for the Red Devils this season and racked up 1,592 yards on 208 carries and 15 touchdowns. He caught 16 passes for 228 yards and two scores as well. On defense, he was second on the team in tackles with 91, had two sacks and two interceptions.
Dropped by Huntley Project to speak with Lane Sumner (@lane_sumner) about his commitment to @MSUBobcatsFB. The @HPREDDEVILS product talks about why he committed, playing with fellow Red Devil Michael Jobman, and playing against future teammate Joe McElroy in Week 1 #mtscores pic.twitter.com/m1035gAw29— Kyle Hansen (@GazSportsHansen) December 20, 2017
Sumner saw playing time at the varsity level for Huntley Project since he was a freshman. Huntley Project finished the season 9-2 and made it to the Class B quarterfinals. In track, Sumner is the two-time defending Class B 100-meter champion.
"It's a program on the rise and I really bought in to what coach was preaching and it helps that they beat the Griz the last two years," Sumner said. "They're really dominating in state and I'm just excited to go and win championships."
Coming from a smaller Class B school, Sumner said, "It meant a lot," when he was being recruited by the Cats. Sumner signed his letter at school and said he's looking forward to reuniting with Jobman as a teammate.
"It's really nice just knowing that I have a guy there that I can talk to and is kind of a role model," Sumner said. "Some of the stuff he's been able to do now ... it's kind of weird, though, playing with him two years ago and seeing where he is now."