BOZEMAN — Montana State football coach Jeff Choate knew that like every college football staff navigating the initial December signing period, Montana State would face some uncertainty. But, he was pleased with the results.
“It’s been a moving target for a lot of us,” Choate said of the seven Montana high school athletes, five out-of-state players, and four mid-season transfers that form MSU’s first-ever group of early signees. Wednesday marked the first of three days that players are allowed to make binding commitments to college football programs in December, and this group of future Bobcats falls in line with the program’s philosophy. “I think you see an emphasis on taking care of the in-state guys in this first (recruiting) cycle, but we’re finally in the place in our program’s development where we can put a bullseye on some specific needs and meet them mid-year to provide some clarity for us down the road.”
The December 2017 recruiting class begins close to home, with seven Montanans ranging from Kalispell, Missoula, Helena, Billings and Huntley Project, to just north of the MSU campus at Bozeman High. Among two local commitments is his son Jory, a preferred walk-on. “We’re super-excited about our in-state kids,” Choate said, “and that will always be a priority for us.”
Equally important, Choate said, was addressing specific needs with players that can provide an immediate impact. “We felt like we needed to add some competition at quarterback and the other offensive skill positions, and we did that with Tyler Natee and Travis Jonsen. We wanted to add value at defensive line with Bryce Sterk, knowing we were going to bring in some talented (freshman) players at DB, and Tristan Bailey adds competition at kicker.”
HIGH SCHOOL – MONTANA
Nolan Askelson, LB
6-1, 210, Fr, Billings, MT (Senior)
Player Notes: A two-time first team all-state linebacker for Billings Senior’s two-time state championship team… named Class AA Defensive MVP in 2017… also earned all-state honors at quarterback as a senior, and at running back as a junior… also a standout American Legion baseball player.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “Nolan was one of the best players in the state of Montana this year. He led his team at quarterback and middle linebacker, and was the Class AA Defensive Player of the Year. He has a ton of versatility and he’ll start his career at
linebacker for us. He was a highly productive player on a
multi-year championship team for coach Murdock, and he’s a high-quality, high-character person who wants to study
engineering. Nolan is a good get for Montana State.”
Jory Choate, LB
6-2, 185, Fr, Bozeman, MT (Bozeman)
Player Notes: Class AA First Team All-State defensive end as a senior… led the state in sacks and tackles-for-loss in 2017… logged 70 solo tackles and 43 assists, with 11 sacks, as a senior for the Hawks.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “He led Class AA in sacks and tackles-for-loss, was a high motor kid who played snap-to-whistle every down for coach Wesche. He’s an undersized D-end who we project to play stand-up outside
linebacker at our level. He’ll provide a lot of value on special teams and is a natural fit for the Bobcats.”
Mark Estes, WR
6-1, 180, Fr, Kalispell, MT (Glacier)
Player Notes: An all-state choice at Drummond in 2015 and at Glacier High (second team) in Kalispell in 2017… also a state track and field champion at Drummond… earned all-conference honors at Drummond and Glacier. From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “This is a young man who first came on our radar when he was playing for Flint Creek (High School). He transferred his senior year to Kalispell Glacier, and after transitioning to 11-man football he really came onto the scene for coach Bennett. He was a state track champion as a junior, and he’ll start off at wide
receiver and also has special teams value. He’s another young man who is a great fit for our program.”
Logan Kleinhans, WR
6-1, 195, Fr, Bozeman, MT (Bozeman)
Player Notes: Caught 48 passes for 748 yards with five
touchdowns as a senior at Bozeman High, earning first team all-state honors… also caught 30 balls for 559 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “Logan is one of the most fluid athletes in Class AA. He fought a little bit of a leg injury, but was still one of the top four receivers in the state in AA
football for the Hawks and coach Wesche, was First Team All-State as a kick returner, explosive and dynamic, a state track champion, and I think he’ll really blossom when he focuses solely on football. I think he has a huge upside in terms of his athleticism and his explosive ability to change a game.”
Joe McElroy, OL
6-4, 255, Fr, Missoula, MT (Loyola)
Player Notes: A two-time all-state choice on the offensive and defensive lines at Missoula Loyola, helping the Rams to league titles in 2016 and 2017… also an all-conference basketball player as a sophomore and junior… three-time academic all-state choice.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “Joe’s been a committed Bobcat for a long time out of Missoula Loyola, a very good high school football program led by coach Hughes. He played
offensive line, defensive line, played some tight end. We’re projecting him to play in-line tight end for us. He was a dominant player at the Class B level in the state of Montana, he comes from an excellent family, and I think he’s going to be a great Bobcat.”
Lane Sumner, RB
5-8, 183, Fr, Huntley, MT (Huntley Project)
Player Notes: A two-time all-state running back who rushed for 1,592 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior at Huntley Project, also gaining 994 yards on 125 carries with 13 touchdowns as a junior… caught 16 passes for 228 yards as a senior, 16 for 318 as a junior… a two-time state 100m champion on the track for the Red Devils. From MSU Coach Jeff Choate:“From Huntley Project, Lane is a former high school teammate of Michael Jobman. He played for coach (Guy) Croy over there and I think he’s been coming to Bobcat camps since he was about six years old. The two camps of ours he came to he really stood out. He’s a very versatile kid with great hands so he can catch the ball out of the backfield well, he has a low center of gravity, he’s very athletic, and has a lot of value in the kicking game as a returner, as well.”
Kaleb Winterburn, DB
6-2, 190, Fr, Helena, MT (Helena)
Player Notes: Earned all-conference honors at quarterback and safety for Helena High, earning all-state honors as a senior… earned offensive MVP honors for the Bengals as a senior… 43
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “The quarterback for Helena High’s state runner-up team in Class AA under coach Arntson, Kaleb is a guy who stood out at our one-day camp. He’d take a rep at quarterback, then run over and play receiver, then play DB, then play linebacker, then come back to quarterback. He didn’t take one snap off and really earned a scholarship that day because you could really see his love for the game. He’s not necessarily a conventional quarterback, but he stepped in and led his team to a state championship game
appearance. We project him as a safety, and he’s just another good, tough Montana kid.”
HIGH SCHOOL – OUT-OF-STATE
Casey Bauman, QB
6-6, 225, Fr, Everson, WA (Nooksack Valley)
Player Notes: Threw for 2,914 yards with 27 touchdowns and three interceptions, to go along with 15 rushing touchdowns, as a a senior at Nooksack Valley High School… threw for 7,437 yards with 65 touchdown passes and 26 on the ground in his career, breaking all his school’s passing records… two-time first team
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “Casey is a tremendous athlete from Nooksack Valley who came to our one-day camp and was a star. He walked out of here with an offer that day. You might look at his size and think he’s a conventional drop-back quarterback, but he’s a very good athlete. He averages 25 points a game in basketball and was a very good defensive player for his team, also. He’s a high, high character young man from an outstanding family and I’m extremely
excited about his future in our program.”
Justin Cauley, RB
5-9, 195, Fr, HS, Venice, CA (Venice)
Player Notes: Rushed for 1,500 yards and 22 touchdowns at Venice High as a senior… first team all-league as a junior and senior, first team all-city as a senior.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “A tailback from Venice High School, Justin is another versatile kid, a very accomplished outside linebacker, played both ways, which you don’t always see at bigger schools in southern California, so that speaks to his athleticism and his love of football. He’s a really good runner between the tackles, kind of a slasher, has the ability to make guys miss. He has very, very good hands, actually played some receiver at times, and when they were in empty packages they’d get the ball to him on screens and throw it down the field (to him), so he’s another guy that adds a lot of value because he adds versatility to an offense.”
Ty’Rese Gibson, DB
6-0, 165, Fr, Lawndale, CA (Paramount)
Player Notes: A starting receiver and defensive back at
Paramount High School… previously started at both positions at Inglewood High School.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “The Gibson twins come from a highly competitive environment in southern California. They were multi-year starters at
Paramount High School, a very good high school football
program where they were well-coached and highly-disciplined. They give us the length we were looking for in the secondary, and we’ll start both these young men out in the defensive
backfield. They’re both 6-1 with good range, excellent top end speed, and they’re very, very competitive. We’re excited about those two young men adding depth and competition to the
Ty’Rhae Gibson, DB
6-0, 165, Fr, Lawndale, CA (Paramount)
Player Notes: A starting receiver and defensive back at Paramount High School… previously started at both positions at Inglewood High School.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: see above
Derryk Snell, TE
6-2, 235, Fr, HS, Chugiak, AK (Chugiak)
Player Notes: Helped lead Chugiak to conference football titles as a sophomore, junior and senior, earning all-league and all-state honors on offense and defense for each of his four years… rushed for 1,374 yards as a senior, with 825 receiving yards… scored 38 touchdowns during his senior season.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “Derryk Snell is the Gatorade Player of the Year in Alaska, and is another guy who came to our one-day camp and stood out. Alaska’s a little off the beaten path but his recruiting really heated up as some of the other Big Sky schools started to notice him, but we were in the door first and we continued to recruit him. He did just about everything for his high school team. He was their leading tackler for his team, scored a ridiculous amount of touchdowns, played move tight end, in-line tight end, fullback, tailback, even lined up at quarterback at times, was ultra-versatile and really fits that mold of being a versatile player.”
Tristan Bailey, K
6-1, 215, Jr, Colorado Springs, CO (Coffeyville CC/Wyoming/Rampart)
Player Notes: Transfers to Montana State from Coffeyville (Kansas) Community College, where he finished his season with nine straight field goals converted, 10-for-his-last-11, and 11-for-17 on the season… earned first team all-conference honors… spent time away from football at Colorado State after beginning his career at Wyoming… he finished his only season with the Cowboys 2-for-8 on field goals, and was 28-for-31 on PATs… earned second team all-state honors at Rampart High in Colorado Springs, hitting 10 of his 12 field goal tries with a 78 percent touchback rate… he was his league’s Specialist MVP, was Academic Honorable Mention, and was a Colorado Springs Gazette 1st Team All-State choice.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “Tristan is a mid-year transfer from Coffeyville Community College who originally played at the University of Wyoming. He was an 85 percent touchback guy (on kickoffs) who ended up making nine of his last nine field goals (last fall). He is a big physical guy who can give us value immediately as a kickoff guy while providing competition at place kicker.”
Travis Jonsen, QB
6-4, 210, Jr, Fullerton, CA (Riverside CC/Oregon/Servite)
Player Notes: Threw for 372 yards and four touchdowns on 26-for-48 passing at Riverside College this season… rushed for 425 yards and three touchdowns on 38 carries… he played at Oregon in 2015 after enrolling as an early graduate that January, then redshirted in 2016… transferred to Riverside following the spring semester in 2017… third-ranked dual threat quarterback in country, the 10th overall prospect in California and the 49th-rated prospect in the nation by Rivals.com at Servite High School in Anaheim, California… in his prep career, threw for 3,361 yards and 26 touchdowns while rushing for 2,133 yards and 26 scores.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “Travis was very highly recruited out of high school, and was at Servite as a freshman the same time (MSU assistant) Michael Pitre was there. He actually graduated from high school early and enrolled at Oregon. He competed for the starting (quarterback) job over a two-year period, but once Mitch Herbert’s brother took over he looked for another opportunity, transferred to Riverside College, and is making his way here. I think his skill set exactly fits what we’ve been doing on offense. We need to provide some competition for Chris (Murray) and push him. Travis is a young man who is mature, he’s been on his journey and sees an opportunity here and a style that fits his skill set. His decision to join the Bobcat football program makes us a better team.”
Tyler Natee, RB
6-1, 260, So, Euless, TX (Indiana/Trinity)
Player Notes: Transfers to MSU from Indiana… did not play in 2017, but earned Scout Team Player of the Week honors twice… played in 10 games at running back and quarterback as a true freshman in 2016, earning Honorable Mention BTN.com All-Freshman honors and Big 10 Freshman of the Week kudos against Maryland… rushed for 237 yards on 61 carries with two touchdowns, catching one pass for four yards… gained 111 yards rushing on 18 carries with a touchdown against Maryland and 38 yards on 10 carries in a win over 17th-ranked Michigan State… compiled 3,000 rushing yards on 337 carries in his career at Euless Trinity High.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “Tyler is a young man from Euless Trinity High School, the same high school as (current Bobcat assistant coach) DeNarius McGhee and several other great former Bobcats, as well as (current Bobcat) Samuelu Leota. He originally signed with Indiana, played a lot as a true freshman, a big, punishing back who was highly productive for them. I think he’ll fill a void as a guy who can gain tough yards and close out a game the way Nick (LaSane) did for us. He’s very versatile, big and physical who just got caught in a system change after a coaching change. He redshirted this year and will have three years of eligibility. He meets a need for us as a big, physical back.”
Bryce Sterk, DL
6-5, 250, Jr, Lynden, WA (Washington/Lynden)
Player Notes: Redshirted at Washington in 2015… played in two 2016 games, but saw no game action in 2017… conference MVP as a senior at Lynden (Washington) High in 2014, earning unanimous first-team all-league honors on the offensive and defensive lines… 147 tackles and 10 sacks as a senior, helping Lynden to a 12-2 record, a league title, and a berth in the 2A state title game.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “I was involved in the recruiting process for Bryce at the University of Washington, and he’s a 6-foot-5, 250-pound guy who brings value as a rush end and will be good against the run. He’s a good student from a good family, a high-character young man who is looking for the opportunity to make more of an impact on the field. I think Montana State fits him very well and he fills a need for us on the defensive line.”