When Butte High senior Colt Anderson committed to play football at the University of Montana in April of 2004, I thought he was making a big mistake.
Colt, I figured, would be better off going to Montana Tech with his bulldog teammate Cole Salo and actually playing college football.
Anderson would probably just sit on the bench for the Grizzlies, I thought. Why would anybody want to go through all that work and never play when he could have been a star at Tech?
At the time, I saw a few Butte players do just that with the Griz. They gave everything they had for five years only to see very limited time. Being a part of some great Grizzly teams was probably worth it to them, but would they not rather play every game?
Of course, I was clearly off in my thinking about Anderson. He went from walk on to All-American at the University of Montana. He then spent nine years in the NFL and played in six playoff games.
The safety and special teams ace even served as a captain for the Philadelphia Eagles in a playoff game.
I could not have been more wrong about Anderson, a player I thought was too small to follow in the footsteps of Butte High great Todd Ericson, another Grizzly safety who got a look in the NFL.
However, I was not the only one wrong about him. Grizzly head coach Bobby Hauck and his staff also missed on Anderson. Had they had any idea that Anderson would be that good, they would have made him their No. 1 recruiting target.
The Grizzlies missed on him. So did the Montana State Bobcats. So did just about every college football program in the country.
So, if you are going to knock my football talent evaluation because of Anderson, then you have to knock Hauck, too. When it came to the “Butte Missile,” Hauck and the Grizzlies got really, really lucky.
Nobody in Missoula will argue that.
When I saw a press release of Montana Western football signings in December of last year, I again thought that a mistake was being made. A big one.
The list of Bulldog signings included Butte High safety Tanner Huff.
This time, my thinking was 180 degrees different than with Anderson.
I said to anyone who would listen, “What in the world are the Grizzlies and Bobcats thinking?” It seemed hard to believe that the two biggest football programs in Montana were not beating down Huff’s door.
Huff contributed with 66 tackles during Butte High’s run to the Class AA State championship game in 2019. He led the Bulldogs in tackles with 74 total tackles in eight games last season. That is an average of 9.3 tackles per game.
So why was the 6-foot, 185-pound Huff overlooked by the bigger schools?
You would have to say that COVID-19 had something to do with that. The Class AA canceled all the non-conference games last season. That did not help, especially since Butte High was trying to fill so many holes from the year before.
The Bulldogs struggled early in a tough Western AA schedule, losing their first three games. That was not great for any potential college players in a year when an extra year of eligibility for current college players is putting a squeeze on the Class of 2021.
College coaches also did not get the chance to hold camps last summer, and that had players like Huff playing from behind from the very start. You would have to believe that Huff would have turned some heads had he had coaches gotten an up-close look at him last summer.
Another factor had to be the cancelation of the entire track season in 2020. We did not get to see times proving how fast some players actually ran.
Of course, that is all making excuses for college coaches who should have known better. All you had to do was watch Huff play football to know Huff is the real deal.
Yes, last season was abbreviated, and Butte High lost its first playoff game. But I did not see a better safety in high school football last year.
Maybe I am biased toward a Butte boy whose parents I have known for decades, but I have not seen a better safety in the last few years. I say that will all due respect to 2020 Bulldog graduate Scout Allen, who might be pound-for-pound the toughest player I ever watched.
At this stage in his career, it seems like Huff would be a better prospect than Anderson. At the very least, he looks a lot more like Ericson.
That is because, much like Ericson, Huff is built like a Greek god. Seriously, if this whole football thing does not work out, Huff could have a career as an extra in Hercules movies.
Oh, and as we saw a little more than two weeks ago at the Class AA State track meet in Missoula, Huff is a burner. He became just the third Butte High athlete to win the 100- and 200-meter races at State, joining Danny Hanley (1980 and 1981) and Dalton Daum (2014 and 2015).
When you factor in the 100- and 200-yard dash, Huff is still in some very exclusive company.
Thanks to some research from Scott Paffhausen, the foremost Butte High historian, we know that Huff is one of nine Bulldogs to ever win the 100 and 200 at State.
George “Bud” Phelps and Bob O’Malley did it two times, Phelps in 1914 and 1915, and O’Malley in 1932 and 1933. Others to do it were Evan Roberts (1938), Jack Matthews (1943), Bill Smith (1946) and Walt Lonner (1952).
O’Malley , Roberts, Lonner and Hanley are members of the Butte Sports Hall of Fame.
None of that is to say Huff will be the player that Anderson and Ericson were with the Grizzlies. It would not be fair to saddle any player with such expectations, scholarship or not.
He will need to take a page out of Anderson’s book of hard work to get onto the field. Nobody has ever outworked Colt Anderson.
Huff, though, is known for his hard work, as well. When the track season was wiped out last year, he still worked as hard as ever. He went to Butte High and ran nearly every day of the lockdown.
He continued the hard work through the school year, and Huff seems to get bigger and faster every time you look at him.
In the preliminary race at State, Huff ran the 100 in 10.9 seconds, tying Fred Krepps (1996) for the fifth-fastest 100-meter race in school history.
Had the track season run two or three weeks longer, Huff might have challenged the marks of Ross Richardson (10.8), Jake Larson (10.73), Daum (10.66) or, dare I say, Hanley (10.63). He really was improving that much from week to week.
Huff also ran a leg of Butte High’s victorious 400- and 1,600-meter relay teams at State. He placed fifth in the javelin.
That four-gold meet finally opened some eyes to Huff, and last week he announced that he will instead play football at the University of Montana.
He made his announcement on Twitter. Along with his statement, Huff included a picture of Washington-Grizzly Stadium packed at night. He also posted a picture of Mike Hamblin’s great painting of Colt Anderson, aka the “Butte Missile.”
Whether he meant to or not, there could not have been a more fitting way for Huff to make his announcement.
When it comes to Tanner Huff, I have a feeling that Bobby Hauck and the Montana Grizzlies just got really, really lucky.
— Bill Foley, who has been wrong once or twice in the past, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74