Montana State

SMALL TOWN TO STANDOUT: Pickering’s rapid rise making impact for Bobcats


BOZEMAN, Montana — Raleigh, North Carolina has a metropolitan population of 1,468,000 people.

Sunburst is a dying oil town of 375 people less than 10 miles from the Canadian border north of Montana’s Hi-Line.

The convergence of cultures can be a spectacular thing. And it happens in college football within the Treasure State at as profound a level as anywhere in the United States.

During Montana State’s season-opening, Brent Vigen-debuting slugfest against the Cowboys in Laramie, one of the truest small-town Montanans on the Bobcats almost wrote a story book ending for himself and his MSU teammates.

Treyton Pickering, a former walk-on tight end who graduated as part of a class of four from North Toole County High, caught a go-ahead touchdown with two minutes, 41 seconds to play to help MSU push host Wyoming to the brink at War Memorial Stadium on September 4.

Matt McKay, a former four-star recruit who started half a dozen games at North Carolina State before transferring to Montana State in January of 2020, tossed Pickering his first career touchdown catch. The Bobcats ended up losing 19-16 in Vigen’s first game as head coach.

McKay earned a Top 70 ranking among national quarterback recruits while starring at Wakefield High School, which has 1,890 students. The 6-foot-4, 208-pounder moved more than 2,500 miles from his home to attend Montana State.

Pickering went to a Class C Montana high school that currently has 58 students and plays 6-man football. The 6-foot-4, 237-pounder has endured a complicated saga to break onto the field for MSU.

But more than anything, a former FBS Power 5 quarterback trusting a teammate who did not play 11-on-11 on the gridiron until his redshirt year at MSU in 2018 personifies what makes FCS football in the Treasure State so unique, even if Montana State ended up losing its 2021 season opener.

“That’s my favorite part about football is, you get to mesh with all these guys from California, Washington, over on the East Coast, North Carolina, everywhere,” Pickering said a few days after Montana State’s loss to Wyoming. “You get to learn from a lot of new backgrounds, especially coming from such a small town. It’s single-cultured there. There isn’t a lot of diversity there.

“It’s just cool to hear other people’s stories, how they grew up and compare it to mine. It’s really cool to learn other guys’ backgrounds and get to know where they came from.”

Pickering’s physical talents were readily apparent from the moment he walked onto the Bobcats. He arrived on campus with a lanky, thin frame and only six-man football experience. Pickering excelled throughout his senior prep season, earning MVP of the Montana East-West Shrine Game, all while battling an ultimately serious injury.

Before deciding to become a Bobcat, Pickering bet on himself. Each spring, Montana State’s athletic department embarks on an Eastside Swing tour that starts in Billings and makes stops in Miles City, Sidney, Glasgow, Malta, Lewistown, Helena, Great Falls, Conrad, and Shelby, in no particular order.

In the spring of 2018, Skyline Sports accompanied new MSU athletic director Leon Costello and his team, including head football coach Jeff Choate and head basketball coaches Brian Fish and Tricia Binford, on the tour. That year, the tour ended in Shelby at Ringside Ribs, a local eatery with a seemingly endless array of tributes to Jack Dempsey’s heavyweight championship fight against Tommy Gibbons back in 1923.

Pickering made an appearance on that final stop, certainly a factor in him joining the Bobcat roster a few months later in the fall of 2018.

“Coming from such a small town, it was an honor to even be able to talk to Coach Choate and get my foot in that door and come to camps,” Pickering said. “Coming from a small town, if you put the work in, it’s all about your skills and what you put your mind to.”

MSU sophomore tight end Treyton Pickering/ by Brooks Nuanez

Pickering has certainly put his mind to improving, but not without obstacles. When he arrived on campus, Pickering approached Montana State veteran trainer Rob Higgs to request a knee sleeve like Pickering had worn during a Class C first-team all-state hoops senior season. When Higgs put Pickering through a basic test, he discovered the tight end had been competing for some time with a torn ACL.

Pickering remembers getting hurt his first game of his prep senior year. He sat out a few inconsequential games before returning to lead the Refiners in football and hoops. He never “really knew what was going on, but wasn’t worried about it.”

Then he arrived on campus and got diagnosed, leading to Choate giving him some valuable advice. Choate advised Pickering to redshirt, which would’ve been necessary anyway given Pickering’s small-town roots. Choate also advised his players on mitigating the seemingly inevitable surgeries each would incur during their careers.

Montana State tight ends coach Nate Potter/ by Brooks Nuanez

Since joining the Bobcats, it’s been a learning experience for the talented tight end from the Hi-Line. It might actually be more random, interesting and atypical for many, if not most, of Pickering’s teammates.

Pickering is just one member of Montana State’s most diverse position group. Tight ends coach Nate Potter, a former All-American offensive lineman at Boise State who played 44 games and started six in the NFL, has as diverse a room as one could imagine, what with 6-foot-3, 260-pound senior Ryan Davis, skilled and athletic 6-foot-2, 245-pound sophomore Derryk Snell and bruising fullback junior R.J. Fitzgerald (who left last week’s 45-7 win over Drake with an arm injury) occupying the depth chart.

But Pickering is so physically gifted and has gained so much mass during his four years in Bozeman, he has earned the admiration of his teammates, specifically those that play tight end. His improvement since joining the Bobcats inspires reverence amongst the Bobcat leadership.

“I think Treyton is going to be exciting these next few years,” said Davis, MSU’s starting senior tight end. “I think he’s going to become one of those Bobcats a lot of people talk about for years to come. He’s got all the talent in the world, the size, a wicked frame.

“I wish I had his frame, his size, his height, his speed, his athleticism. I can’t wait to see what’s next for him. Greatness is right there for him, he’s just got to grab it.”

About Colter Nuanez

Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer for Skyline Sports. After spending six years in the newspaper industry with stops at the Missoulian, the Ellensburg Daily Record and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the former Washington Newspaper Association Sportswriter of the Year and University of Montana Journalism School graduate ('09) has cultivated a deep passion for sports journalism during his 13-year career covering the Big Sky Conference. In August of 2014, Colter and brother Brooks merged their passions of writing and art to found Skyline Sports.

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