Big Sky Conference

Bobcats sign 12, including a few surprises

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BOZEMAN — Jeff Choate has made a habit of giving mantras to his recruiting classes. Montana State’s third-year head football coach deemed his class last season “the Class of Champions” because of the proliferation of state championship-winning players it included.

During his press conference on National Signing Day Wednesday from the GranTree hotel in Bozeman, Choate the slogan “the future is now” to describe his most recent 12 additions, a group of signees that brings MSU’s 2018 additions to 28 total.

“What we really focused on is guys who can make an impact now,” Choate said.

You could also call the group Choate announced the class of the late surprise.

Montana State entered National Signing Day with 16 players signed from the first-ever early signing period. The Bobcat coaching staff held verbal commitments from eight players who were primary prep targets between the end of the early period December 22 and Wednesday plus the hope that a ninth player, running back Sherod White, would sign after committing last summer but not signing last month.

By noon, Choate had 11 players to announce. And by Wednesday afternoon, the 12th member of MSU’s third signing class under Choate doubled as the Washington Gatorade Player of the Year.

Washington Gatorade Player of the Year Isaiah Ifanse of Bellevue High/ contributed

MSU’s 12 signees included powerful defensive tackle James Williams (Aledo, Texas), wide receiver Koby Duru (Diamond Bar, California) and Bellevue, Washington stud running back Isaiah Ifanse, the aforementioned top prep football player in the Evergreen State. None of the three publicly announced their commitments before sending in their National Letters of Intent. None of the three elicited the “#BOOM” tweets that Choate posts to Twitter when he receives a pledge.

All three helped round out an impressive second recruiting wave wave that included three 3-star recruits from Washington’s West Side, three more 3-star recruits from the Golden State including Duru and White, a re-opening of MSU’s Texas pipeline with Williams finally making up his mind and even a few late additions that hail from the Treasure State.

“There’s two things are really shifting in our recruiting pitch. The first is come win a championship at Montana State, not come help us build at Montana State,” Choate said. “That resonated with a lot of the young men. We’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting and now it’s time for us to go compete for a title. That connected to a lot of these guys.

“And the other thing is we have a heck of a good product to sell here. When these guys get off a plane or drive to Bozeman, the reality so far exceeds the expectations, that’s always a bump for us. When they leave Bozeman, they think it’s pretty cool. Whether it’s taking a drive up to Bridger Bowl or being around our campus and feeling the energy, they know this is a good place to be right now.”

NATIONAL SIGNING DAY: Montana State head coach Jeff Choate

Choate and the Bobcats went toe to toe with programs across the West, targeting their most recent signees and bringing nine prospects to Bozeman the weekend of January 20, the same Saturday MSU hosted rival Montana in basketball. Despite MSU’s 67-52 loss on the hardwood, the football team garnered eventual commitments from all nine players, although Plano, Texas defensive end Pierce DeVaughn signed with UConn at the last moment.

It all came to fruition despite recruiting coordinator Michael Pitre taking a job at Oregon State on January 9.

“It’s not ideal when you lose somebody but Matt (Miller) would be the first one to say that our ace in the hole is Cole Moore because Cole had worked so closely with all our guys,” Choate said of MSU’s recruiting liaison, himself a former All-Big Sky Conference Bobcat linebacker. “He handled most of our stuff. He was the guy who was doing a lot of the logistical stuff even when Michael was traveling. If there was an MVP of this signing class for us, it was Cole Moore.”

Malik Putney/ contributed

The Bobcats extended an offer to 3-star safety Malik Putney at Seattle-Tacoma area powerhouse Eastside Catholic last spring. Choate admitted Wednesday he didn’t think MSU would ultimately land the hard-hitting cousin of University of Montana point guard Ahmaad Rorie. 

The recruit Choate calls his “alpha” for his natural leadership abilities held out for the University of Washington offer he coveted until three days before signing day, instead choosing the Bobcats over Air Force, Army, Hawaii, Idaho and Eastern Washington.

Montana State beat Army, Air Force, Sam Houston State and Houston Baptist for Williams, a 5-foot-10, 303-pound bulldozer who showed unwavering durability and unmatched production for one of Texas’s most dominant football programs. The signing by Williams ended a long saga that saw him commit to Montana State last July, de-commit in the fall and leave his recruiting open until signing day.

Ifanse waited even longer. The 5-foot-9, 181-pounder posted his verbal commitment to Twitter after MSU had already received the other 11 letters. Ifanse’s of MSU over Idaho, Navy, Air Force, Sacramento State and Wofford came more than three hours after Choate finished addressing the media regarding the class.

MSU beat Idaho, Northern Iowa and Weber State for Garfield (Seattle) 3-star wide receiver Mekhi Metcalf, the 6-foot-4, 185-pound son of former NFL All-Pro kick returner Eric Metcalf. Montana State beat Cal Poly and Portland State for the 6-foot-4, 197-pound Duru, a gregarious and physical 2-star wide receiver who’s sister Adanna finished in the top 10 on “American Idol” in 2015.

Ifanse, Metcalf and Putney add to an already signed Washington contingent including Washington transfer defensive end Bryce Sterk and Nooksack Valley quarterback Casey Bauman, the player Choate called MSU’s “best recruiter” of his fellow future teammates over the last few months.

NATIONAL SIGNING DAY: Montana State head coach Jeff Choate

“From the day I got here, I was like, ‘That’s an area we are missing on,” Choate said of the Seattle area and Western Washington overall. “Having spent two years over there recruiting (as the defensive line coach at Washington), I think there’s a lot of talent and some very good football. There’s a lot of population, direct flights, 30 percent of the engineers at the Renton (Boeing) plant are Montana State grads. There’s all these reasons why we need to be engaged more in Seattle. We have a good alumni base. We have a good brand over there.

“We’d kind of waived the white flag, to Eastern in particular. I think we have a heck of a product and we aren’t recruiting the same kids they are. We are different than we are. That doesn’t mean we aren’t going to run into them from time to time. But when I go knock on somebody’s door, I believe in what I’m selling. I think this is a heck of a place. We’ve got a great degree to sell. I believe in the young men that we are going to coach down the road. And I believe in our locker room. I think we are going to win big.

“Then they get on the plane, they come here and they realize it’s an hour and 20 minutes from Seattle over here, that’s not bad. They walk into that airport, they walk downtown, they walk on our campus, it’s a different feel. I think we should be over there being aggressive in recruiting. That’s why you see the emphasis on that state right now.”

Norco OL Donny Long

Norco Donny Long committed to MSU after making his official visit only to get a full scholarship offer from new Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards the day after returning to Southern California. Yet the 6-foot-3, 280-pound offensive guard still chose Montana State.

Defensive tackle Seer Dienes of Connell, Washington chose MSU over in-state power Eastern Washington. Cornerback Gregory “Munchie” Filer III, a transfer from Compton College with a 2-star rating, picked MSU over Portland State, Idaho State, Central Arkansas and Southeast Louisiana after a previous connection — his half-brother John Ross, now of the Cincinnati Bengals, played at Washington while Choate coached there —led him to Bozeman.

“This is the only way they let me compete anymore,” Choate said. “I don’t get to play football and thank God they don’t. But this is an opportunity to get your juices flowing. You get out there, you get a chance to go head to head with somebody. There’s strategy involved. I know you might think we just sit there and write notes and call people and feed them steak when they come to Bozeman. But you have to know who are the influencers and how they are going to affect us. I love this process.”

White, a 3-star running back from Heritage High in Brentwood, California, committed to Montana State in August. He came on a weekend in December in which MSU hosted its first set of official visits but did not sign during the early period. MSU held off New Mexico, Idaho, Howard and an undisclosed late FBS suitor to sign a player Brian Armstrong said will be “one of if not the fastest players on our team.”

Heritage High running back Sherod White/ contributed by White

Even Montana State’s lone small-school addition, former 6-man star Treyton Pickering from Sunburst, chose the ‘Cats over rival Montana after originally signing with Montana Tech. Ryan Barkley, a 6-foot-5, 265-pound offensive tackle from Durango, Colorado will accept a preferred walk-on spot from MSU despite not fielding an official offer or making his official visit until last weekend and holding several Division II offers. Blake Allred will make it two former Billings Senior linebackers in this class, joining previously signed Nolan Askelson by accepting a partial scholarship to play fullback for the Bobcats.

“The pitch, I’m a straight shooter,” Choate said. “I do not try to twist anybody’s arm in this process. I think it works. People think we come off as being genuine and authentic. I think our staff does a great job of that. That’s our style. We are not into gimmicks here. Here’s who we are. If you are into this, let’s go win a championship.”

Photos contributed and attributed. All Rights Reserved. 

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 12 year career covering the Big Sky Conference. In August of 2014, Colter and brother Brooks merged their passions of writing and art to founded Skyline Sports.

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