BOZEMAN, Montana — Nine months ago, Casey Bauman took off his red sideline signal caller hat and put on his Bobcat helmet to enter a game for the first time. Since then, Chris Murray officially parted ways with Montana State for good, the Bobcats endured a productive and potentially fruitful off-season, Matt Miller began to put his signature on the MSU offense and Bauman continued to blossom.
On Saturday, the physically impressive 6-foot-7, 235-pounder will hit the Bobcat Stadium turf for the first time as the starting quarterback at Montana State. Bobcat head coach Jeff Choate and Miller, MSU’s wunderkind offensive coordinator, officially announced Bauman as the starter on Monday.
Bauman has taken first-team repetitions consistently in 2019, the snaps with the starters increasing steadily through spring ball and reaching a peak in the days leading up to MSU’s first scrimmage of this fall camp. Following that first live showing, Bauman earned the nod over sophomore Tucker Rovig, a starter for two games last season in place of unorthodox but dominantly explosive quarterback turned linebacker Troy Andersen.
“Casey was starting to take command of the huddle more frequently,” Choate said on Monday. “Certainly I made that clear that was going to be a big part of my decision: how the players responded.”
Two years ago, Bauman was having a hard time earning any sort of recognition. Coming out of a junior year at Nooksack Valley High in Northwestern Washington that saw him throw for 2,787 yards and 24 touchdowns, Bauman had talked to nary a college coach.
The native of Everson (pop. 2,481) took it upon himself to get recruited. He went on a road trip around the West, attending individual camps at Boise State, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Montana State. In August of 2017, he committed to MSU. Despite earning the No. 2 ranking in the state of Washington after tearing up the Northwest 9 Elite QB camp later that summer, Bauman held steady with MSU.
After emerging from a battle with Rovig that essentially has been going since January even if it only lasted 10 days of fall camp, the Bobcats now hope their towering teenage quarterback is the foundation under center they’ve been searching for since Choate took over.
His physical talents and his upside make for an intriguing prospect that could bloom into an impressive gunslinger with small-town roots.
“It’s interesting to see a young man who came from basically Class B (Montana) football, the equivalent of that from the state of Washington who has some tremendous physical gifts,” Choate said. “I don’t think anybody in this room sits in front of Casey and thinks he doesn’t look like a Division I quarterback. It’s really the mental part that I’ve seen the biggest growth in him. His practice habits, his preparation habits…I think he’s gotten really close with his teammates.
“He put those pennies in the bank this summer to try to gain the trust of his teammates,” Choate continued. “A year ago, he was leaving home for the first time and they have a very tight family. I know he was homesick and he missed his little brothers. Now he’s gotten away from home, gotten to be a little bit more of his own man and I think that will continue to progress.”
The perpetual state of instability at the quarterback position since Choate took over has been a well-chronicled saga. When Bauman starts on August 31 against Texas Tech, he will be MSU’s fourth different opening-day starter under Choate and the fifth starting quarterback overall.
Earlier in fall camp, Choate said his coordinator situation “is as good as it’s ever been” despite the fact that he has two new coordinators. Miller took over offensive play-calling duties with six games to play last season, helping ignite the Bobcat offense as MSU surged down the stretch and into the playoffs for the first time under Choate.
Miller is one of the youngest coordinators in Division I football at the age of 28. With a full off-season under his belt to develop and curate the offensive attack he wants, the former Boise State star wide receiver just needed to find his trigger man.
Even when Murray was in the midst of 16 straight starts, he always felt like a stopgap rather than a long-term solution. Even though Andersen set a Big Sky record for rushing yards in a single season by a quarterback (1,412) and MSU’s single-season rushing touchdown record (21) on the way to unanimous first-team all-conference honors, he too never felt like the quarterback of the future.
Bauman played a total of six snaps last season, all to close the first half of MSU’s 49-42 win over Cal Poly after Andersen tweaked his ankle and had to go to the locker room early. Now the redshirt freshman takes over as Montana State’s quarterback of the present and perhaps the future, too.
“I think it’s big-time,” Miller said when asked about having a foundation to build his offense on. “I think sometimes when you don’t have that gunslinger, you can put some handcuffs on yourself. This opens up the whole playbook. Casey understands and the rest of the guys understand what we are trying to coach.”
Miller finished his career at Helena Capital as one of the most decorated athletes in Montana prep history. As a junior, Miller competed against a Treasure State senior class that featured future NBA first-round draft pick Josh Huestis of Great Falls and future NFL second-round draft pick Brock Osweiler of Kalispell.
The latter is a 6-foot-8, 240-pounder who was once verbally committed to Gonzaga to play basketball. But former Montana State quarterback Dennis Erickson got wind of the rocket-armed quarterback and recruited him to Arizona State.
Osweiler’s rise was profound — he signed a 4-year $72 million contract with the Houston Texans in 2016 — and his plight even more striking. Three years after the payday, he is an NFL free agent.
That fall from grace does not take away from the once in a generation talent Osweiler was growing up in Northwest Montana. Miller is hoping their unusually tall signal caller can find his potential like Osweiler did.
“His body stature, he reminds me of Brock Osweiler,” Miller said. “Brock had a strong arm, very football savvy, similar moxie as Casey. Brock and I are about the same age and knowing Brock’s personality and Casey’s personality, they are very similar. Casey still has a long ways to go in his development.
“I’m not saying he’s a Brock Osweiler type of talent yet. But I think he has all the potential in the world if he keeps working like he’s working.”
That work will be under the spotlight for the first time on Saturday night at Bobcat Stadium for the first live, open scrimmage of MSU’s 2019 fall camp.
“We have so many weapons, we have so many people who can contribute and that fires me up,” Bauman said. “I can’t wait to keep working.
Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.