Montana State reopened its Lone Star pipeline to acquire eight new football players from Texas on National Signing Day. The Bobcats also received letters of intent from five in-state recruits.
Montana was handcuffed by a shortage of scholarships, but coach Mick Delaney remained pleased with the Grizzlies’ payload, which includes five in-state players and six other preferred walk-ons from the Treasure State.
“We wanted to recruit our home state first,” said Bobcats coach Rob Ash, whose program added 20 high school players and three college transfers. “We signed five scholarship guys who we think are the best in the state at their position. We think they’re the cornerstone of the class.”
Ash said MSU’s three incoming transfers — cornerback Bryson Keeton and running back Anthony Knight, both formerly of Nevada, and Tyler (Texas) JC defensive lineman Wawa Leota — have a chance to contribute next season.
Delaney said the areas the Grizzlies needed to restock the most were on defense, particularly at linebacker where they lose seniors Jordan Tripp, Brock Coyle and John Kanongata’a.
“We’re not necessarily breathing a sigh of relief,” Delaney said after the Grizzlies announced a total of 24 recruits. “It’s just excitement and the satisfaction of knowing that our guys worked their behinds off and put together what we think is a really good group of young men.”
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Of MSU’s in-state haul, Ash highlighted Bozeman linebacker Grant Collins as a major prize. The 6-foot-4, 213-pound Collins helped lead the Hawks to a state title this past season while being named Class AA’s co-defensive player of the year.
Ash said Collins garnered interest from the highest level — the Pac-12, Mountain West, etc. Collins' father Shane played at Arizona State and had a three-year NFL career with the Redskins.
Collins is “the headliner of the class in my opinion,” Ash said. “He was the best linebacker we found anywhere that we looked. And he can play the toughest spot out there, which is (middle) linebacker. And we needed to fill that position.”
Ennis receiver Connor Sullivan helped the Mustangs to the Class C 8-Man title. Sullivan, who is 6-4 and 218 pounds, averaged 18.4 yards per catch and scored 16 touchdowns as a senior. Ash singled Sullivan as a key pickup.
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Montana’s recruiting class only includes nine scholarship players. The rest are priority walk-ons. The Grizzlies were down four scholarships due to NCAA sanctions, and will be for the next two years.
But quality exceeds quantity, and Delaney and his staff still came away with big in-state signings, including 6-5, 218-pound Bozeman quarterback Will Weyer, 6-0, 215-pound Great Falls CMR linebacker Alex Thomas and 5-10, 180-pound Kalispell Glacier defensive back Evan Epperly.
“Will Weyer, we felt, was the best or second best player in the entire state of Montana at quarterback coming out of Bozeman,” Delaney said. “I think he’s going to make an impact here and be a quality guy. He throws it really well.”
Linebacker Shayne Cochran became just the second player ever from Culbertson to join the Griz. Terry Falcon, who starred at UM from 1976-77 and played three seasons in the NFL, is the other.
Among UM’s out-of-state additions, Clackamas, Ore., offensive lineman David Reese stands out. Reese is 6-7 and 270 pounds, and was an honorable mention all-state pick in Oregon this past fall.
Also, linebacker Josh Buss out of Boise, Idaho, was the Southern Idaho player of the year, and safety Manu Rasmussen of Tigard, Ore., comes with high marks. Delaney said Rasmussen originally committed to Big Sky Conference rival Eastern Washington but flipped to the Grizzlies over the weekend.
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Linebacker Eric Prevost of Covina, Calif., might be the most decorated of the new Bobcats. The 6-foot, 205-pound Prevost had 128 tackles and 22 sacks as a senior at Charter Oak High School, and received several postseason accolades.
Mission Viejo, Calif., defensive lineman Garrett Marino was initially set to grayshirt at Arizona State. But Ash said that plan fell through two weeks ago, and Marino turned to the Bobcats.
The Bobcats’ eight Texas recruits represent a further commitment to the Lone Star State, which in previous years produced the likes of quarterback DeNarius McGhee, linebacker Jody Owens and cornerback Darius Jones.
This year, speedy receiver Justin Paige, tight end Curtis Amos and cornerback Bryce Alley, all from the Houston area, are among those on board.
“We’d sort of been slipping down in our numbers from Texas, and it was vital for us to get established there again,” Ash said. “Other than our (in-state) success, this to me was the second most important piece.”
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Due to the lack of scholarships, Delaney noted the effort of his staff to persuade several recruits to accept priority walk-on status at UM.
“We had to approach it a little bit differently because of the small number of scholarships and the sanctions we have," he said. "We spent a tremendous amount of time recruiting walk-ons that we think really do have an opportunity to play football here. We spent a lot of time on it — more than ever.”
Billings Central defensive lineman Ben D’Alton is among those walk-ons. D’Alton, at 6-3 and 230 pounds, helped the Rams win the Class A state title in 2012. Hardin running back Carl Johnson is also on that list.
Delaney said Bozeman walk-on Riley Kack, an offensive lineman with the Hawks, is being projected as a fullback.
Below are the full recruiting classes:
Josh Buss, LB, 6-3, 195, Boise, Idaho (Mountain View); Reese Carlson, WR, 6-4, 215, Gig Harbor, Wash. (Gig Harbor); Austin Chadderdon, FB, 6-2, 200, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho (Coeur d’Alene); Tristen Clark, WR, 6-2, 180, Deer Lodge (Powell County); Shayne Cochran, LB, 6-1, 210, Culbertson (Culbertson); Ben D’Alton, DL, 6-3, 230, Billings (Central); Kyle Davis, DT, 6-1, 245, San Diego, Calif. (Cathedral); Evan Epperly, S, 5-10, 180, Kalispell (Glacier); Sean Foley, WR, 5-10, 165, Whitefish (Whitefish); Manu Rasmussen, S, 6-0, 180, Tigard, Ore. (Tigard Senior); Carl Johnson, RB, 6-0, 180, Hardin (Hardin); Riley Kack, FB, 6-2, 240, Bozeman (Bozeman);
Caleb Lyons, WR, 5-9, 185, Lakewood, Wash. (Lakes); Jake Mann, S, 6-1, 185, Encinitas, Calif. (La Costa Canyon); Milan Marrero, LB, 5-11, 200, San Diego, Calif. (Francis Parker); Nick Mertes, DE, 6-3, 230, Edina, Minn. (Edina); Evan Miksch, DE, 6-3, 255, Lake Stevens, Wash. (Lake Stevens); David Reese, OL, 6-7, 270, Clackamas, Ore. (Clackamas); Tyler Richtmyer, LB, 6-2, 215, Missoula (Sentinel); Dylan Stenseth, LB, 6-2, 225, Lewiston (Fergus); Kole Swartz, TE, 6-5, 225, Missoula (Hellgate); Alex Thomas, LB, 6-0, 215, Great Falls (C.M. Russell); Reggie Tilleman, TE, 6-4, 195, Gensesee, Idaho (Genesee); Will Weyer, QB, 6-5, 208, Bozeman (Bozeman).
Bryce Alley, CB, 5-10, 169, Houston, Texas (North Shore); Curtis Amos, TE, 6-0, 212, Burleson, Texas (Centennial); Grant Collins, LB, 6-4, 213, Bozeman (Bozeman); Tavon Dodd, RB, 5-7, 165, Houston, Texas, (John H. Reagan); Braelen Evans, CB, 5-11, 183, Frisco, Texas (Hebron); Tyrone Faa’nono, LB, 6-2, 261, Oxnard, Calif. (Oaks Christian); Mitchell Herbert, WR, 6-4, 201, Eugene, Ore., (Sheldon); Bryson Keeton, CB, 6-2, 190, Bakersfield, Calif. (Ridgeview/Nevada); DeMonte King, S, 6-1, 212, Los Alamitos, Calif. (Los Alamitos); Anthony Knight, RB, 6-1, 240, Boston, Mass. (Xaverian Bros/Riverside/Nevada); Wawa Leota, DL, 6-1, 286, Bedford, Texas (Euless Trinity/Tyler JC); Joey Marinello, OL, 6-5, 320, Apple Valley, Minn. (Eastview);
Garrett Marino, DL, 6-2, 274, Mission Viejo, Calif. (Mission Viejo); Toti Moeakiola, S, 6-0, 205, Euless, Texas (Trinity); Austin Oldenburger, OL, 6-3, 270, Manhattan (Manhattan); Justin Paige, Ath, 5-11, 171, Katy, Texas (Morton Ranch); Eric Prevost, LB, 6-0, 205, Covina, Calif. (Charter Oak); Matt Stewart, P, 6-3, 245, Corona, Calif. (Santiago); Connor Sullivan, WR, 6-4, 218, Ennis (Ennis); Trevin Thompson, K, 5-9, 195, Helena (Helena); Wade Webster, OL, 6-6, 295, Bettendorf, Iowa (Bettendorf); Zach Wright, DL, 6-3, 234, New Braunfels, Texas (New Braunfels); Tucker Yates, DL, 6-1, 285, Colstrip (Colstrip)