Rob Ash laughed about his eagerness to kick-off his weeklong vacation. Robin Pflugrad joked that he's been so busy he doesn't even know who's in the Super Bowl.
Indeed, the football coaches at Montana State and Montana spent countless hours pursuing new talent during the recruiting season. But it paid off on Wednesday as Ash and Pflugrad gained official commitments on National Signing Day.
"We've got a great class, both in terms of quality and quantity," Ash said of MSU's new crop. "This is the best we've done. We didn't have to fight a lot of battles down the stretch. These were all solid commitments."
Said UM's Pflugrad: "We were pretty solid and entrenched in Montana, probably much more so than last year when we had three weeks to put a class together. For the most part we got the guys in Montana that we wanted. We feel very good about the guys we got from in-state."
The Grizzlies added 23 players while MSU picked up 22. Both schools grabbed 11 in-state commitments.
Three local players were among Montana's collection -- defensive back Connor Lebsock of Billings Skyview, and offensive lineman John Schmaing and defensive back Zach Gratton of Billings Senior.
The 6-foot-2, 198-pound Lebsock, a two-time first-team all-state safety, is the fifth member of his family to join Montana's program. Lebsock's dad Ron (the longtime coach at Skyview) played for the Griz from 1974-77, while brothers Matt, Shawn and Nick came later.
Gratton, a three-year starter at safety, is also a "legacy player." Gratton (6-0, 185) joins brother Sam -- currently a wide receiver at UM -- and follows dad Scott, who was a linebacker with the Grizzlies from 1979-82.
The 6-6, 255-pound Schmaing, meanwhile, was a first-team all-state tackle last season.
Pflugrad was quick to single out Schmaing as one of the most-important additions for Montana, which went 7-4 and missed the playoffs last season. He also noted 6-5, 285-pound Missoula Hellgate defensive tackle Jesse Ginn.
"Many people say (football) comes down to the trenches, and I'm proud to say we signed the very best offensive lineman in the state of Montana in John Schmaing out of Billings," Pflugrad said. "And on the reverse side of that we signed the very best defensive lineman in the state of Montana in Jesse Ginn out of Hellgate High School.
"So if all those concepts are true about the trenches, I feel very confident and comfortable with the guys we've signed."
Ash, whose team won the Big Sky Conference with a 9-3 record a year ago, was happy with the way his program replenished its crop on the offensive line. The Bobcats signed six new linemen in addition to transfers Tyler Thomas (Kalispell Flathead/Oregon State) and Stephen Memory (Tracy, Calif./Delta College), who came to MSU last month.
The Cats picked up Kyle Godecke, a 6-5, 292-pounder from Dillon who was an all-state choice at offensive line last year, along with John Weidenaar, a 6-7, 235-pound tackle from Manhattan, and Joel Horn, a 6-4, 255-pound lineman out of Kalispell Glacier.
"We felt we had to address our depth at offensive line," Ash said. "That was a huge issue for us -- a huge priority. We really succeeded there."
Among the Bobcats' other local signings were Great Falls High receiver Jake Olson (6-1, 203), Drummond defensive lineman Nate Bignell (6-2, 225) -- whose father Joe was a tight end on MSU's 1984 national title team -- and Great Falls CMR quarterback Jake Bleskin (6-1, 165).
Bleskin joins brother Tanner, who caught 33 passes for 502 yards and three touchdowns as a receiver for the Bobcats last season.
Ash also spoke highly of his out-of-state additions, including defensive lineman Odin Coe (6-3, 250, Camas, Wash.), defensive backs Jamarcus Darden (5-9, 178, Houston), Deonte Flowers (5-11, 161, San Diego, Calif.) and James Nelson (5-10, 192, Los Angeles), and receiver Michael Perryman (6-2, 183, San Juan Capistrano, Calif.).
"We had our board set up, and we wanted to see if we could go out and get the No. 1 guy we were targeting at each position," Ash said. "And we did. It was tremendously exciting."
Of the Grizzlies' non-state additions, Pflugrad lauded a few "wow hitters" -- defensive backs Matt Hermanson (6-1, 188) of Sioux Falls, S.D., Kevin Frank (6-0, 190), a transfer from Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif., and Nate Harris (5-10, 185) of Chino, Calif.
Pflugrad said wideout Hassan Richardson (6-4, 190, Mililani, Hawaii), could be the star of his recruiting class. Richardson was a high school teammate of 6-0, 182-pound quarterback Trent McKinney, who also signed with UM.
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"I could not believe that there weren't some larger schools recruiting him," Pflugrad said of Richardson. "I'm very thankful that there weren't, because I think he's going to be a real gem for us."
The Grizzlies added three players from Butte, including linebacker Jonathan Richards (6-3, 215) and tight end Aschan Richards (6-6, 215), cousins from Butte Central High School. Aschan Richards had previously made a verbal commitment to Montana State.
Dillon defensive lineman Monte Folsom (6-3, 255) joined the Bobcats, as did Bozeman athletes Heath Hunter (6-1, 214) and Justin Pierson (5-11, 198).
On Wednesday the Bobcats were unable to sign a pair of players they are currently chasing: quarterback Te'Shon Burton (Lawndale, Calif. /Jacksonville State) and Flathead lineman Connor Thomas, Tyler Thomas' brother. Ash said he and his staff will continue to pursue both.
Ash said his team didn't do as well recruiting Texas this year, and that the loss of assistant coach Justin Gaines, who took a job at North Texas in December, may have played a role.
"We got 11 scholarship guys from Montana, and will have 13 new Montana kids on our team after this semester," Ash said. "It just goes to show you what our focus was all along."
With sophomore Jordan Johnson as the Grizzlies' only returning signal-caller that saw playing time last season, Pflugrad said he will continue to recruit quarterbacks.
Nowhere on the Grizzlies' list was ex-Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier, who is reportedly considering transferring to UM -- along with several bigger schools.
"I think the No. 1 thing about this class is ... as we set out we didn't have a lot of scholarship dollars to spend," Pflugrad said. "I think we did an outstanding job of stretching the monetary part of the equation as much as we could."
NOTES: Bozeman High School QB Tanner Roderick, considered the premier recruit from Montana this year, signed a letter of intent on Wednesday to play at Division I FBS school Nevada. The 6-2, 190-pound Roderick made a verbal commitment to the Wolfpack in December.
Signing Day 2011
Matt Berg, 5-9, 180, QB/K, Butte; Nelo Butler, 5-9, 200, RB, Helena; Derek Crittendon, 6-3, 240, DL, Whitefish; Joe Dahl, 6-4, 240, OL, Spokane, Wash.; Kevin Frank, CB, Elk Grove, Calif., (Sierra College); Jesse Ginn, 6-5, 285, DT, Missoula Hellgate; Zach Gratton, 6-0, 185, S, Billings Senior; Gavin Hagfors, 6-2, 207, RB, Great Falls CMR;
Nate Harris, 5-10, 185, CB, Chino, Calif.; Matt Hermanson, 6-1, 188, DB, Sioux Falls, S.D.; Samson Kaleikini, 6-5, 270, OL, Kapolei, Hawaii; Christian Licciardi, 6-3, 275, OL, Orange, Calif.; Trent McKinney, 6-0, 182, QB, Mililani, Hawaii; Addison Owen, 6-2, 210, LB, Vancouver, Wash.; Aschan Richards, 6-6, 215, TE, Butte Central; Jonathan Richards, 6-3, 215, LB, Butte Central;
Hassan Richardson, 6-4, 190, WR, Mililani, Hawaii; Connor Lebsock, 6-2, 198, S, Billings Skyview; John Schmaing, 6-6, 255, OL, Billings Senior; Stephen Shaw, 6-3, 225, P/K, Boise, Idaho; Chase White, 6-2, 180, QB, Shelby; Justin Whitted, 6-1, 190, S, Los Angeles; Archie Woulard, 6-4, 180, WR, Chandler, Ariz. (Mesa College).
Montana State Bobcats
Nate Bignell, 6-2, 225, DL, Drummond; Jake Bleskin, 6-1, 165, WB, Great Falls CMR; Trevor Bolton, K, 5-10, 175m, Great Falls; Odin Coe, 6-3, 250, DL, Camas, Wash.; Jamarcus Darden, 5-9, 178, DB, Houston; Matthew Devereux, 6-3, 285, OL, Eugene, Ore.; Alex Eekhoff, 6-6, 255, OL, Reno, Nev.; Deonte Flowers, 5-11, 161, DB, San Diego, Calif.;
Monte Folsom, 6-3, 255, DL, Dillon; Kyle Godecke, 6-5, 292, OL, Dillon; Kody Grelle, 6-4, 277, OL, Austin, Texas; Joel Horn, 6-4, 255, OL, Kalispell Glacier; Heath Hunter, 6-1, 214, Ath, Bozeman; Shawn Johnson, 5-9, 185, RB, Bakersfield, Calif.; James Nelson, 5-10, 192, DB, Los Angeles; Jake Olson, 6-1, 203, WR, Great Falls;
Michael Perryman, 6-2, 183, WR, San Juan Capistrano, Calif.; Justin Pierson, 5-11, 198, Ath, Bozeman; Taylor Sheridan, 6-3, 255, DL, Littleton, Colo.; Alex Singleton, 6-2, 201, LB, Thousand Oaks, Calif.; Trace Timmer, 5-11, 170, DB, Great Falls; John Weidenaar, 6-7, 235, OL, Manhattan.
Transfers (previously released): Eric Homec, 6-4, 240, DL, Jr., Bozeman (Orange Coast CC) Stephen Memory, 6-5, 292, OL, Jr., Tracy, Calif. (Delta College); Dontrayevous Robinson, 6-2, 228, RB, Jr., Euless, Texas (Nebraska); Tyler Thomas, 6-3, 312, OL, Jr., Kalispell Flathead (Oregon State).