BOZEMAN — Jeff Choate knows the numbers compiled by members of his second recruiting class as Montana State’s head coach — his first after a full recruiting cycle that began a year ago — are impressive. The measurables such as height, weight, and speed, are excellent. But those aren’t the most important characteristics of MSU’s 2017 recruiting class.
“We’ve called this the Class of Champions,” Choate says, “because 25 of these players played on championship teams in high school. The kids in this class have won on the field, they’ve won in the classroom, with a cumulative grade point average of over 3.4, and they are the kind of people that will represent this program and our University the right way.”
The Bobcats added three players at running back, two transfers, to provide competition and productivity immediately. Edward Vander rushed for over 1,000 yards at Saddleback College in California last fall, and transfers to MSU after the spring semester as a sophomore. Jake Roper is a redshirt freshman currently enrolled at MSU after spending last fall at Boise State, and Tyrell Burgess is an explosive back from Florida.
Across the board, Choate expressed his program’s desire to add “length and athleticism on both lines, and speed and explosiveness” at the skill positions. “We certainly made an effort to improve both lines in terms of adding long, athletic players,” Choate said. Three of the newest Bobcats slot into the offensive line, while four project as defensive linemen.
The recruiting areas targeted for this year’s class should seem familiar to Bobcat fans. “We will always start closest to home,” Choate said, and true to that two signees prepped just down 11th Street from Bobcat Stadium at Bozeman High School. In all, 10 of the 27 student-athletes announced Wednesday graduate from Treasure State high schools in the spring, ranging from Class AA to Class C. MSU also landed players from traditional recruiting grounds of California, Washington and Oregon, along with a bordering state in Idaho. The newest Cats also hail from Florida and Georgia.
Darren Gardenhire, CB
6-0, 185, Sr, Long Beach, CA (Washington/Cabrillo)
Player Notes: Transfers to Montana State from Washington, and will redshirt in 2017 to satisfy transfer requirements… started parts of two seasons for the Huskies… three interceptions, 64 tackles, nine pass breakups and a sack and forced fumble during his career at UW… special teams standout for three seasons… a two-year starter at Cabrillo High School, where he earned defensive MVP honors in his conference and gained 1,500 all-purpose yards.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “Darren is a young man we had at Washington who is an excellent cover corner and a very competitive player. He will redshirt (in 2017) and then play as a senior (in 2018), and he makes us better not only at the cornerback position but at receiver becaue of the way he works in practice.”
Stephen Omorogbe, DL
6-4, 255, Fr, Woodstock, GA (River Ridge/USAFA Prep)
Player Notes: Transfers from Air Force Prep, where he spent 2016… has four seasons of eligibility… rated as a three-star recruit coming out of high school… three-time honor roll selection, President’s Award for Outstanding Academic Achievement, graduated with Honors, certified computer hardware technician… also competed in track and field and basketball… member of Chick-Fil-A Leader Academy and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “Stephen is a long, athletic, strong defensive lineman who really found us. He’s an excellent student who was attracted to MSU because of academics, and he fits what we’re looking for in the defensive line. He has tremendous strength and size, and could help us early in his career.”
Jake Roper, RB
5-11, 190, Fr, Meridian, ID (Boise State)
Player Notes: Is currently enrolled at MSU after transferring from Boise State… redshirted with the Broncos in the fall… helped lead Rocky Mountain High to the Idaho 5A State Championship in 2015… rushed for 1,470 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior, earning First Team All-State honors twice… two-time All-Idaho choice by Max Preps, which ranked him as the top player in Idaho as a senior.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “I really like Jake’s toughness and his productivity as a ball carrier for a very good high school program. He comes to us after spending the fall semester at Boise State, and I think he will be a very good fit for us.”
Edward Vander, RB
6-1, 215, So, Mission Viejo, CA (Saddleback/JSerra)
Player Notes: Transfers to MSU after the spring semester, with three years of eligibility… rushed for 1,074 yards and 18 touchdowns as a freshman at Saddleback, catching 30 passes for 467 yards… broke school records in rushes, yards and total touchdowns… first team all-conference as a junior at JSerra, earning Orange Empire and team offensive MVP honors as a senior… finished his prep career at Paramount.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “He rushed for over 1,000 yards at Saddleback, and is a big back, 6-1, 200-plus lb kid who I think brings the ability to be an every-down guy. He can be physical in pass protection, he has great short-area quickness but also can accelerate. I think he can be a difference-maker at tailback. He needs to finish up at Saddleback this term and we hope to have him join us this summer.”
Troy Andersen, ATH
6-3, 215, Fr, Dillon, MT (Beaverhead County)
Player Notes: Helped lead Beaverhead to Class A title games as a junior and senior, winning the 2016 championship… Class A All-State quarterback as a junior and senior… All-USA Montana First Team Safety and Defensive Player of the Year… Great Falls Tribune Super-State 2015 and 2016… Southwest Class A Offensive MVP the past two seasons… threw for 1,403 yards last fall, rushing for 877 and accounting for 30 total touchdowns… 71 tackles with three interceptions and two fumbles recovered… maintained a 4.0 grade point average throughout his high school career, earning Academic All-State honors all four years and tracking to become Class Valedictorian… competed for the track and field and basketball teams.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “I hate to jinx Troy, but he reminds me of (MSU assistant coach and former Boise State standout) Matt Miller. He’s just a winner, one of the more decorated athletes out of the state of Montana in probably the last five to seven years. He’s a multi-event state track champion, helped his team to a state track championship last year and has led his basketball team to state championships, he’s been a part of two state championship in football and has played for three. He’s played quarterback and safety, we project him as a defensive player. He’s a 4.0 student and probably will be the valedictorian, he’s a tremendous student and exemplifies some of the best of what (athletes from the state of) Montana offer.”
Keaton Anderson, DB
6-0, 180, Fr, Billings, MT (Senior)
Player Notes: Helped lead Senior to its first Class AA State Championship in more than three decades as a senior, with the Broncs finishing 13-0… First Team Class AA All-State as a safety in 2015 and 2016, earning Defensive MVP honors last fall… picked off six passes, returning two for touchdowns, as a senior… two-time state runner-up in the long jump and high jump for the Billings Senior track squad… two-time honor roll student.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “The Double-A Defensive Player of the Year in the state of Montana who helped Billings Senior win its first state championship since 1979, Keaton consistently jumped out one of the more productive players on tape. He had some of the best tape coming out of his junior year. He’s a very good track athlete, has excellent speed, and I think he’s a guy who can play both corner and safety at this level. He’s a tough, smart, productive player.”
Tyrel Burgess, RB
5-8, 160, Fr, Haines City, FL (Ridge Community)
Player Notes: Second Team All-County selection after rushing for 1,168 yards with 18 touchdowns as a senior… also competed in basketball and track and field.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “Tyrell is a young man from Florida who Coach (Brian) Armstrong identified. This guy is different in terms of change of direction. He has a tremendous ability to make people miss in space and he can accelerate very quickly. He possesses raw speed and is a highly-productive running back but I think we can play him at a number of different positions. We could play him as a slot receiver to run fly sweeps. He gives us a lot of versatility. He’s a tough, smart kid who gives us a skill set we were missing in the slot.”
James Campbell, WR
6-1, 180, Fr, Palatka, FL (Palatka)
Player Notes: First team all-state and two-time all-county selection… Putnam County Offensive Player of the Year as a senior, when he threw for 1,275 yards and ran for 620 more… 25 total touchdowns… three-year honor student who was also a two-time team captain.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “He ran a triple-option style offense as the quarterback, so he had a lot of (service) academy interest and is an exceptional student. Both Courtney (Messingham) and Brian (Armstrong) have strong ties to the state of Florida, and Brian being a former coach at two very good programs down there. He was able to connect through his coach, and James was primarily a baseball player until the last two years. He had offers from a number of different schools in the southeast, but he fell in love with the environment here and wants to do engineering. He is a very explosive athlete and can be a difference-maker for us. One of the things we focused on in this class is speed at the skill positions. He was a high school quarterback so he shows leadership, productivity, but I think we’re going to start him out at wide receiver although he could play a number of positions.”
Jalen Cole, CB
5-9, 160, Fr, Carson, CA (Mater Dei)
Player Notes: A three-year starter at one of the nation’s top prep programs, where he helped lead Mater Dei to a 13-1 mark last fall and a top-three national ranking… rated a three-star recruit… two-time All-Trinity, two-time all-state, two-time All-CIF and two-time All-County… recorded 39 tackles, including 3.5 for a loss, with two interceptions and two pass breakups as a senior… three-time honor roll student.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “By some he’s ranked as the number one recruit in the Big Sky this year. He comes from the a tremendous program Mater Dei High School, the no. three team in the country, where he was a multi-year starter at corner in a very, very competitive league, played for a CIF Championship this year. He had Ivy League honors, that’s the kind of student that young man is, he comes from a tremendous family, and I think he’ll bring an edge and an intelligence to our secondary that will benefit us for a long time. I think he’ll have the chance to compete early in his career.”
Ryan Davis, LB
6-3, 225, Fr, Billings, MT (Skyview)
Player Notes: Class AA First Team All-State linebacker and Second Team tight end at Skyview as a senior… chosen the Falcons’ Most Inspirational as a junior and senior… helped lead the Skyview basketball team to a state title in 2016… two-time Honor Roll selection… a Blackfeet Nation Descendent and Lower Brule Sioux Tribal Member, and also belongs to the Crazy Dog Warrior Society… his mother, father and three brothers are MSU graduates, and his brother Leo was a three-year starting offensive lineman for the Bobcats (2008-11).
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “We identified Ryan all the way back at our Junior Day last spring and followed him very closely. He played both linebacker and tight end so he has position versatility. I think his best football is in front of him, and I’m’ excited about him continuing the legacy his mom and dad started years ago of being great members of our campus community.”
R.J. Fitzgerald, FB
5-11, 210, Fr, Dillon, MT (Beaverhead County)
Player Notes: Helped lead Beaverhead County to Class A State Championships in 2014 and 2016… two-time First Team Class A All-State linebacker, first team all-conference at fullback… Southern A Defensive MVP as a senior, when he registered 106 tackles to go along with 700 rushing yards… 2015 all-state catcher for the Dillon Cubs American Legion baseball team… helped the Beaverhead basketball team to 2016 state title… Academic All-State four times.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “Another state champion, R.J. was an emotional leader for BCHS in their title run this year. He played linebacker and running back in high school, and we identified him as a guy who can be a true fullback, a piece we haven’t recruited in a while, and we can build some things around that role. I’ve used this a lot, but R.J. shows leadership, productivity, great passion for the game of football, and he wants to be a Bobcat. We’re excited about that.”
Tadan Gilman, LB
6-0, 200, Fr, Kalispell, MT (Glacier)
Player Notes: Helped lead Glacier to the 2016 Class AA State Championship, earning First Team All-State honors at quarterback and punter… earned Class AA First Team All-State honors at linebacker as a junior… threw for 2,297 yards last fall and rushed for 684… accounted for 34 total touchdowns… three-time Academic All-State… led the Glacier basketball team in scoring and steals as a junior, and finished fourth in Class AA in the javelin for the track squad.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “I love Tadan’s versatility. You look at a young man who played safety and linebacker and running back his junior year, and they convert him to quarterback and he leads his team to a state championship game appearance (as a senior). That’s not a natural move, but I think it speaks to his competitiveness and his leadership. One of the things about this class is that we signed, I think, six guys that played high school quarterback, and those young men are generally some of the best leaders on the team and some of the best athletes on the team. I think Tadan fits that mold.”
Peyton Hanser, WR/ATH
6-4, 205, Fr, Billings, MT (Central)
Player Notes: Team captain as a senior at Billings Central, where he was a First Team Class A All-State and two-time First Team All-Conference choice… four-year starter on the basketball team, helping lead his team to the state title game as a junior… four-time Academic All-State… brother plays football at Washington State, and father Scott was a standout on WAC Championship teams at Wyoming.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “Peyton is another long, versatile athlete who took over the role that (current Bobcat) Jacob Hadley had at Billings Central. He was a productive player on both sides of the line. We’re going to start him out at wide receiver and he’ll add some depth there for us. He comes from a very good program and was one of the leaders in that program. He comes from a football family, I actually recruited his older brother to Washington State, and his dad was a very good player at Wyoming. He comes from good bloodlines and is another young man who I believe will add value not only to our program but to our campus.”
Jaxen Hashley, DL
6-6, 260, Fr, Kalispell, MT (Glacier)
Player Notes: Helped lead Glacier to 2014 Class AA State Championship and 2016 runner-up seasons… three-year letterman, team captain in 2016… First Team All-State on both the offensive and defensive lines… three-year National Honor Society member… captain of the basketball team, as well… the son of Bobcat Hall of Fame basketball player Doug Hashley.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “He’s a 6-foot-6, s60 lb athlete who’s light on his feet, he’s a tremendous basketball player, he’s a legacy kid whose father was a hall of fame basketball player here. Once he starts to focus on football he’s going to really develop quickly. He’s a young man who won a state championship his sophomore year and played for a state championship this year. He’s one of the best big men in the state of Montana at any level in basketball, and he has a little edge to him.”
Sean Hatten, OL
6-5, 275, Fr, Bakersfield, CA (Garces Memorial)
Player Notes: Earned First Team All-League and All-Area honors as a senior, when he was named his team’s Most Improved Player… 2016 Jockey Club Award winner… chosen for the US Army Bowl… a Principal’s Honor Roll choice.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “Sean emerged later on in his career. He had a tremendous senior season at Garces High School, a team that had a big turnaround his senior season, and Sean was a big part of that. He’s a big kid who had a ton of Mountain West offers and a lot from Big Sky schools, but he fell in love with Bozeman and wants to (major in) Ag Business and I think he has huge upside and is a really good get for us.”
Chad Kanow, LB
6-3, 200, Fr, Temecula, CA (Great Oak)
Player Notes: First team all-league selection as a senior, who served as a team captain in 2016… logged 113 tackles, five sacks and three forced fumbles for Great Oak.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “A linebacker form the Inland Empire, Chad was a very good inside linebacker in high school, but he’s a very good athlete with good range. He was extremely productive in high school ,and I think he has the ability to play inside or outside for us.”
Lance McCutcheon, WR
6-3, 190, Fr, Bozeman, MT (Bozeman)
Player Notes: Helped lead Bozeman High to the 2015 Class AA State Championship… team captain as a senior, when he earned First Team Class AA All-State honors at receiver and cornerback… first team all-conference at both positions, as well. caught 40 passes for 780 yards as a senior, with 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, including a pick-six… two-time Academic All-State… lettered in track and field and basketball.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “Probably one of the more athletic players in the state of Montana, he hasn’t played a lot of football, he’s been a basketball and track athlete, but he really emerged as one of the better two-way players in the state this year. He plays the ball well in the air, he had 10 interceptions and a lot of catches. He has great length. He has position versatility, but we’ll start him at wide receiver. He’s a local product who I think will take a great deal of pride in representing the Bobcats.”
Brody McKnight, OL
6-3, 310, Fr, Sammamish, WA (Eastside Catholic)
Player Notes: A four-year starter with 46 starts to his credit who was team captain as a senior… played on two state championship teams… Eastbay All-American as a freshman… All-Metro First Team as a junior and senior… Metro Offensive Lineman of the Year, Seattle Times All-State and All-Area, Tacoma News-Tribune All-State.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “Brody is a very decorated offensive lineman who comes from a tremendous program, Eastside Catholic High School, the same high school as (current Bobcat offensive lineman) Alex Neale. They won a state championship his junior year. He’s an interior offensive lineman who is very physical, was a multi-year starter. He’s a big, mature kid right now who can come in and add not only size and strength to our offensive line but also depth.”
Ty Morgan, DL
6-4, 225, Fr, Ennis, MT (Ennis)
Player Notes: Captained the 2016 Mustangs team that won the Class C State Championship… two-time First Team All-State… chosen for the Shrine and Badlands Bowl all-star games… compiled 25.5 tackles-for-loss with 9.5 sacks last fall… 2016 State Class C shot put and discus champions… four-year honor roll student… has signed a housing agreement.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “Ty is a defensive lineman from Ennis, was part of the state championship team there. He is a long, raw athlete. He was at our team camp this summer, we identified him then, and Coach (BJ) Robertson did a great job of staying in touch with him, of developing a relationship. He is interested in Ag Business and I think he is a great fit for our program and can develop into a really productive player.”
Callahan O’Reilly, QB
6-2, 210, Fr, Bozeman, MT (Bozeman)
Player Notes: Second Team All-Class AA and First Team All-Conference quarterback for the Bozeman Hawks in 2016… threw for 3,178 yards, rushed for 379, and accounted for 39 total touchdowns… played on Bozeman’s 2015 state title team, which finished 13-1… three-time academic all-state and two-time basketball letterwinner.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “Callahan put up some stellar numbers for Bozeman High this year, but the thing that stood out to me is what a clutch performer he is, whether it be late in football games or in basketball. That exemplifies the type of competitor he is. He’s a very bright young man, he’s an excellent student and a tremendous leader, and I just really like the kid. He’s a tremendous kid to add to our program.”
Willie Patterson, WR
5-10, 175, Fr, Tacoma, WA (Franklin Pierce)
Player Notes: Earned First Team All-State honors as an all-purpose back… two-time 2A SPSL League MVP after leading the state in all-purpose yards as a senior… three-time team captain… 2016 Dean’s List and Honor Roll… earned defensive MVP honors for his school’s basketball team, and competed in track, as well… voted Tacoma Athlete of the Year.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “Willie was one of the more productive players in recent history in the Tacoma area. His stats are off the charts, and he’s kind of a Swiss army knife. He played quarterback, but how many times do you see quarterbacks who return punts and kickoffs and play defense? He kind of did everything, and he’s a guy that can play a lot of positions. I think he’s got the ability to be a really good slot receiver, can add value on special teams in the return game, and he’s an excellent leader. I think he’s going to add some edge and some swagger to our roster. He’s a very confident young man who I think is going to have a very nice career year.”
Zach Redd, OL
6-1, 275, Fr, Meridian, ID (Rocky Mountain)
Player Notes: Two-year offensive line starter who helped lead Rocky Mountain to 2015 Idaho Class 5A State Championship… First Team 5A All-State as a junior and senior, when his team compiled a 20-4 record.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “Zach Redd is another highly-productive multi-year starter from Rocky Mountain High School, another one of the better high schools in Idaho. They won a state championship his junior year. His tape is probably as good as there is in the FCS in terms of how he plays the center position. He’s an interior offensive lineman with very long arms and finishes blocks very well. He’s a highly intelligent football player, and a kid who exemplifies the characteristics of leadership and toughness that we’re looking for.”
Tucker Rovig, QB
6-5, 205, Fr, Meridian, ID (Mountain View)
Player Notes: Led Mountain View to 2016 Idaho Class 5A State Championship… two-time First Team All-State… threw for 5,459 yards and 69 touchdowns in his career, compiling a 22-3 record as starting quarterback… three-time Academic All-Conference and a three-time qualifier for the Idaho 5A State Track Championships.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “Tucker is a tremendous leader, a three-year starter for one of the best programs in the state of Idaho. He was our first commit, and became one of our best recruiters. He has NFL prototypical size, but also the athleticism to be a dual-threat quarterback. He’s a great leader and a winner”
Kyle Rygg, DL
6-4, 235, Fr, Eugene, OR (Sheldon)
Player Notes: Registered 70 tackles and nine sacks as a senior, helping lead Sheldon to a 10-2 record… First Team All-League and Second Team All-State as a senior… also competed in basketball and track and field.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “We offered Kyle a long time ago. from Sheldon High School in Eugene, where Mitch Herbert played. He was heavily recruited by Big Sky schools, and he’s another long defensive lineman who adds depth. Kyle, Stephen (Omorogbe) and Jaxen (Hashley) all meet our needs in terms of getting bigger, longer and more athletic on the defensive front. He brings intelligence, toughness and productivity to our program.”
Tyrel Thomas, CB
5-9, 175, Fr, Compton, CA (St. John Bosco)
Player Notes: Helped lead St. John Bosco to the 2016 CIF State Championship, finishing the season as the nation’s second-ranked team… registered 92 tackles, six interceptions, two touchdowns, a sack and a forced fumble as a senior… Second Team All-Trinity League.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “From the state champion St. John Bosco Braves, I think they finished as the no. two team in the country, was a multi-year starter. he had a pick-six in the opening game of the year against Xavier in Cincinnati that was on national television, and he also had one in the CIF section championship game against Mater Dei. He’s another young man who played in a highly, highly competitive environment in southern California, and not only competed but excelled. I think he has a chance to come in and have an immediate impact.”
Connor Wood, OL
6-5, 310, Fr, Meridian, ID (Rocky Mountain)
Player Notes: Helped lead Mountain View to 2015 Idaho Class 5A State Championship… an offensive lineman who scored two touchdowns as a senior… Second Team All-SIC selection who was chosen for the East-West All-Star game… 2015 Honor Roll student.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “Connor played tackle in high school, but he may play guard here. He has very good size, he’s a strong, powerful kid, with good feet for his size. He finishes blocks well, and he’s another player who won a state championship and is from a winning high school program.”
Travis Yates, DT
6-3, 260, Fr, Placentia, CA (Orange Lutheran)
Player Notes: Logged 101 tackles with six sacks and four forced fumbles in his career at Orange Lutheran… ranked as a three-star recruit and the top defensive lineman in southern California, and the 96th-rated strong side defensive end in the nation… his father (Shane) and brother (Timothy) each served two combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Timothy is a Purple Heart recipient.
From MSU Coach Jeff Choate: “He was the preseason pick as the Trinity League Defensive Lineman of the Year, which is a pretty unique honor. He plays in a very, very competitive league, is a multi-year starter. He was an early commit who stayed with us while a lot of schools made a run at him. He has the size and explosiveness to potentially come in and compete and play early (in his career). He is a high, high quality young man, a tremendous kid.”
— MSU Sports Information