Defending champions

Billings Senior's Blake Allred holds up the Class AA state championship football trophy after the Broncs beat the Helena Bengals at Wendy's Field at Daylis Stadium on Nov. 17, 2017. Allred signed his letter of intent to play college football for Montana State on Wednesday. 

BRONTE WITTPENN, Gazette staff

BILLINGS — National Signing Day had a little bit of a different flair to it this season. 

Thanks to the early signing period back in December, a once-crazy day now seemed a little more relaxed as recruits across the state and country made their football commitments official by finally putting pen to paper. 

Still, just because many have already signed does not dull the excitement that fans and players have as these respective recruiting classes are beginning to take shape on one of the country's unofficial holidays. 

In Montana, and specifically Yellowstone County, the college talent pool is deep. Beginning at the FCS level, Billings Senior linebacker Blake Allred was the only one to sign this time around. Allred signed Wednesday morning with Montana State, becoming the third player from two-time Class AA defending-champion Senior to sign with either the Cats or Griz. Allred will join fellow Bronc linebacker Nolan Askelson in Bozeman while their teammate Gabe Sulser will compete with the Griz. Allred and Askelson will both be joined by Huntley Project running back Lane Sumner at MSU as well.

Allred announced his commitment to the Cats two weeks ago, and on Wednesday at Senior spoke about what putting his name to the paper meant to him. 

"It was pretty exciting to finally put the name to the paper and know that I'm officially a Bobcat," Allred said. "Getting ready for that next step is going to be huge so I'm excited about it.

"Bozeman's a great place and I've always leaned towards the Bobcats so I've always wanted to play at the FCS level so they're option just appealed to me more."

Allred chose the Cats over Montana and multiple NAIA schools. A two-time all-state selection, including first-team this season, Allred has been a key contributor to Senior's 26 straight wins and two straight AA titles. Recruited as a linebacker, Allred was called upon to contribute on both sides of the ball this year for Senior, where he thrived as a fullback as well. 

"These last two years were really big for me," Allred said. "It really developed me more into a man. (Head coach Chris) Murdock likes to make men for others so that just means getting ready for the next step in your life and being ready for more competition, getting to know new people and learning new stuff."

Yellowstone County was once again a hot-bed of talent for college football in Montana. With four players heading to the FCS level, multiple more are going Division-II or NAIA. Staying with the Broncs, Murdock said defensive lineman Noah Christopherson has signed with Division-II Minot State. Christopherson had one of the biggest plays of the 2017 State AA game, knocking down a fourth down Helena pass on the five-yard line to give the ball back to Senior to seal the win. Senior's backup quarterback Cade Torgerson, who transferred in from Shepherd as a junior, signed with the University of Jamestown in North Dakota, an NAIA school, to play both football and baseball. Colton Eliason, an honorable mention all-state receiver for the Broncs, is heading to Montana Tech. Carroll College will also add some talent from Senior, as first team all-state safety Micah Ans will suit up for the Saints. 

"Our football program has been successful, and obviously, you don't have success without talent," Murdock, who in the last couple of years has sent the most players to the college level in Billings, said. "It's definitely been fun to see those kids go through our program and go on to be successful. You're happy for them that they have an opportunity to keep playing.

"I'm never used to signing days and I never want to take for granted that we've had this talent. We have these opportunities with these kids who are real special that we've had. It's those kids that have poured their heart and soul into our program. You obviously want what's best for these kids and you really hope that they'll have a chance to be successful."

Billings West has three players announce their commitments to the next level so far. All-state kicker Cody Gagnon is going to Tech, and will be joined by all-state honorable mention defensive lineman Nick Clawson in Butte as well. Golden Bear linebacker Jacob Resch will also head to the NAIA ranks and join Carroll College in Helena

Both Billings Skyview and Billings Central each have one player heading to the NAIA ranks as well. Central running back Ben Voss will join Eliason, Gagnon and Clawson in Butte and play for Montana Tech next fall. Voss essentially broke every Ram rushing record possible this past year for Central, breaking the school's career rushing yards (3,207) and touchdown records (41). He also had a school-record for yards in a season (1,676) and rushing touchdowns (23) in a year as well. His 329 yards against Havre are a record for rushing yards in a game, a feat he accomplished in only 16 carries. 

Skyview two-way lineman Bruce Spang is staying home and joining Rocky Mountain College. Spang was second-team all-state as a defensive lineman this year for the Falcons, despite missing some games with a leg injury. 

Outside of Billings saw some talented players as well. Huntley Project is sending two players to the college football level. Sumner as mentioned will be a Bobcat and two-way lineman Trey Copeland is heading to Montana Tech. Copeland was a two-time all-state player for the Red Devils. 

Class B Shepherd will also see two players go NAIA. Tanner Harrell will play for Carroll while Dalton Lemburg will head to Montana Western. 

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