Many years ago during an informal discussion with University of Montana men’s basketball coaches Jim Brandenburg and Mike Montgomery, a seemingly modest suggestion was put forth.
The topic was in-state recruiting versus out-of-state. The thinking on this part was that even if no real D-I prospect existed in Montana in any particular year, a scholarship should always be extended to a Montanan. We pay the taxes, we buy the tickets and, for the most part, support the souvenir stand, no matter in which payment manner.
Every 15-man roster has a 15th player. That could be a Montanan, right? What difference could it make?
They said it could make lots. Brandenburg found much success continuing the winning ways Jud Heathcote established with the Griz prior to moving on to national championship achievement at Michigan State. Brandenburg was a Heathcote assistant and encored some of the more successful seasons in UM history with pretty good stays at Wyoming and San Diego State. Montgomery was a young assistant under Brandenburg, then succeeded him at Montana and has since gone on to Stanford, where he reached the Final Four, the Golden State Warriors of the NBA, and now California in the Pacific 12 Conference.
One of the reasons for the successes was that, as Brandenburg and Montgomery said, every recruit should be a potential starter, leader, all-conference type. Every spot is prized for such a reason.
Aaron Woliczko of Montana Tech said something similar, though no mention of in-state kid or out-of-state was made, during an after-game chat some weeks back. He noted that once a prospect is recruited to fill a position, the next recruit could, and maybe should, be even better, signed to take away that job. The kids compete for it.
The push of such character and talent and pride and ability create such a championship-aimed competition, that is supposed to also accompany college educations leading to better lives for those involved.
So, we’ll saunter over to the football side of the subject matter now and wonder if attitudes, philosophies are the same. The NCAA signing date for football is Feb. 6 and both Montana and Montana State will be on the hunt for future members with which to beat each other, and as many other programs in the country as they can. Both programs have been pretty good, lately. UM will be needing to splash big, soon, in healing attempts for wounds yet to be opened by what so far has been a perplexingly long and hush-hush NCAA investigation.
Anyway, would it be wrong, now, to lobby for our kids to get the jobs? The ones of tackling, blocking, running, throwing and catching would do for now as they prepare for life’s real world. Montana prep football was pretty good last fall.
Too many times, we believe, has a Montana kid been told by the Cats and Griz to walk on so that the scholarship money can be spent on an out-of-state phenom. Our best should get a better shot. Both schools, too, could use the friends such a gesture might make. And, I, for one, think our kids can play, that our best ones compare favorably.
A Grizzly assistant coach remarked not so long ago about the recruiting of highly touted out-of-state athletes to the program only to see Montana walk-ons play in the Pro Bowl. The observation referenced Havre and UM grad Marc Mariani, a Pro Bowl kick returner for the Tennessee Titans before breaking his leg the past preseason and missing the 2012 campaign.
The Montana-Montana State representation in the NFL is heavy with in-state influence, including Butte’s own Philadelphia Eagle safety Colt Anderson. Two more in-staters played for Pac 12 schools and are now in NFL huddles, too — Carolina Panther defensive lineman Dwan Edwards, from Columbus and Oregon State, and Denver Broncos backup quarterback Brock Osweiler, from Kalispell and Arizona State.
UM coaching legend Don Read once said he needed the Montana kids in the Griz program simply for their leadership and work ethic that pressured the more talented and squeezed the performances out of them.
Butte native and current Griz coach Mick Delaney gleaned good results when he installed Kalispell Glacier product Shay Smithwick-Hann at quarterback in time for a late-season surge that fell short of returning UM to the playoffs this past autumn.
A lot of spots open in football programs year-to-year because of graduation and attrition. Plus, the game has never been overall bigger, highest level to lowest, than it is, right now.
A lot of Montana kids are playing Little Guy, junior high and high school football and wanting to someday be Bobcats or Grizzlies. Not too many ones in L.A., Houston, Seattle or Denver do, dreaming of being Cats or Griz, that is.
So, with college becoming more and more expensive in our state, campus facilities costing more and more, important yacht clubbish perks being stacked on administrators, and all while sports tickets skyrocket beyond the means of the working family, it would be nice to see more of a hand extended.
Hopefully, it will be holding a list of football recruits on Feb. 6 and include names we recognize.