BOZEMAN — Five outstanding athletes, an iconic Montana State University professor and a pair of championship women’s basketball teams will join the school’s most decorated athletic legends when they are inducted into the Wendy’s Bobcat Athletics Hall of Fame on September 13.
A pair of gridiron greats and two championship women’s basketball highlight an induction class of six individuals and two teams. Four of the six individual inductees originally came to MSU from the Treasure State.
Two football All-Americas are up for induction, linebacker Jack Muhlbeier (1977-80) from Hardin and Neal Smith (1994-97) from Polson. Each earned All-America honors after dominant senior seasons. Another two-time all-conference end as a Bobcat football player, Vic Berra (Eveleth, Minn.), also starred in basketball (post) and baseball (first base) for the Bobcats. Ray Willis, Jr., earned the nod as MSU’s top defensive player and was a key cog in one of the school’s most successful three-year runs in the last 50 years (1985-88).
Alira Johnson, originally from Deer Lodge, won three straight conference championships in the high jump at MSU (1983-85), and continues to hold the school record. Montana State’s back-to-back women’s basketball championship squads of 2001-02 and 2002-03 took the Big Sky by storm, with different players (Jessica Blake and Isabel Stubbs) winning Big Sky MVP honors in those two seasons. Dr. Hayden Ferguson is renowned on the Bozeman campus as an iconic professor in the MSU College of Agriculture and for his tireless support of all Bobcat teams.
Hall of Fame ceremonies are set for Friday, Sept. 13, at Bozeman’s Best Western GranTee Inn. Cost is $50 per couple, $26 for individuals, and the evening begins at 6 pm with a hosted social. For information or to purchase tickets, contact Bobcat Athletics at (406) 994-5435. RSVPs are requested by Sept. 5.
Bios for inductees are below…
Vic Berra – Football
A transfer from Eveleth (Minn.) Junior College in his hometown, Vic Berra came to Montana State as a football player, and the rangy end earned All-Rocky Mountain Conference honors as a sophomore in 1952 and a junior in 1953. He also played on the Bobcats’ 8-1 1954 squad. And while he was considered an outstanding football player, his natural athleticism was on full display in the winter and spring, as well. He earned All-RMC honors on the hardwood in 1953-54, helping the Bobcats to a league title, and also played first base on the Bobcat baseball team.
Dr. Hayden Ferguson – Administrator/Professor/BoosterHayden Ferguson graduated from MSU in the late 1940s, joined the faculty at his alma mater, and has been a mainstay on the Bozeman campus ever since. Ferguson held a variety of roles in MSU’s School of Agriculture, and has supported Bobcat Athletics through good years and bad as a fan as well as in official roles.
Alira Johnson – Women’s Track and Field
Alira Johnson was a three-time Mountain West Athletic Conference champion in the high jump. She won outdoor titles from 1983-85 and finished her career as a four-time All-MWAC selection. Johnson stills holds Montana State’s outdoor record with a clearance of 5-10 set in 1985. In addition, she helped the Bobcats to the 1983 MWAC Indoor Championship.
Jack Muhlbeier – Football
Jack Muhlbeier earned Second Team All-Big Sky honors as a junior and was a first team selection as a senior, when he also earned Second Team All-America honors. The Hardin native was a dominant linebacker for Montana State, racking up nearly 300 tackles over his final two seasons and becoming the only Bobcat at his position to earn All-America honors between 1973 and 1983.
Neal Smith – Football
At a time when Montana State seemingly plucked great defensive linemen from an assembly line, Neal Smith was unique. At 6-5, 245, he was an athletic and fast defensive end who played with a natural fearlessness. A terrific junior season netted him Honorable Mention All-Big Sky honors, but as a senior he would leave no question about his greatness. Smith piled up 19 sacks, at the time the eighth-most in school history in a season, and his 22 tackles-for-loss that season was third-most. Smith earned First Team All-Big Sky and First Team All-America honors as a senior, and his 35.5 career sacks remains second in Bobcat history. The Polson product was an engineering major.
Ray Willis, Jr. – Men’s Basketball
During a three-year run when the Bobcat Basketball program accomplished some big things, Ray Willis, Jr., was known for excelling at the little things. MSU coach Stu Starner called him the unsung hero on Bobcat teams that won the Big Sky Tournament (1985-86), won the Big Sky regular season title and hosted an NIT game for the only time in school history (1986-87), and hosted the league tournament (1987-88). He was named the team’s top defensive player during his final three seasons, and as a senior was among the Big Sky leaders in scoring, assists, steals, free throw percentage and three-point percentage. Willis earned Second Team All-Big Sky honors as a junior and senior.
2001-02/2002-03 Women’s Basketball Teams
The back-to-back 2001-02, 02-03 women’s basketball squads enjoyed a two-year reign in the Big Sky Conference and compiled a league mark of 22-6 and two regular-season titles. The Bobcats were led by Jessica Blake, who captured Big Sky MVP honors in 2001-02, and Isabel Stubbs, who was named the Big Sky’s top player in 2002-03. The culmination of the two-year span was a trip to the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT) in March of 2013, where the Bobcats dropped a first-round decision at Colorado State.
— MSU Sports Information