Chad Newell bought into one simple notion. He’s finally starting to reap the rewards.
Individual motivation can be a driving force for any athlete, not the least of which a college football walk-on like Newell. But it’s been his buy-in to selflessness, not selfishness, that’s helped the Billings Senior product reach this point.
“Something Coach (Rob) Ash always says is dedicate yourself to the team and do everything you can to help your teammates and those kind of awards will come,” said Newell, was named to the All-Big Sky team at two positions earlier this week. “That’s what I did all year was do everything I can to help us win and put ourselves in position to be where we are right now: in the playoffs. Those awards are just a blessing and I’m thankful for that.”
Newell’s Bobcats host No. 13 South Dakota State in the first round of the FCS playoff at 2 p.m. at Bobcat Stadium on Saturday.
The 6-foot-1, 220-pound do-everything sophomore was one of just six players and three Bobcats in the Big Sky to earn all-conference honors at two spots. Just Eastern Washington sophomore Cooper Kupp (first-team as a wide receiver, third-team as a returner), Northern Arizona junior Nick Butler (first-team as a fullback, second-team as a special teams standout), North Dakota senior Alex Tilleman (first-team returner, honorable mention cornerback) and Newell earned first-team accolades along with other recognition. Newell earned first-team honors as a special teams player and honorable mention honors as a fullback.
MSU senior Shawn Johnson earned second-team honors as a returner and third-team as a running back. Bobcat sophomore Gunnar Brekke earned honorable mention honors at returner and running back. Weber State super senior Bo Bolen was a third-team pick as a fullback and an honorable mention returner.
Newell played every single special teams snap of Montana State’s season, notching 11 tackles while covering kicks and punts. He proved to be one of the Big Sky’s best blockers in open space while excelling at his H-back/fullback role he’s embraced in all season, helping pave the way for Johnson and Brekke. The speedy duo rushed for 941 yards, averaged 6.5 yards per carry and scored eight rushing touchdowns combined.
Newell has also has served as MSU’s short-yardage back — he rushed for 62 tough yards and scored an 11-yard touchdown in a 23-13 win over Weber State — and Montana State’s feature back. Despite playing so many snaps, Newell has been the only MSU tailback to stay healthy out of a group that also features junior Anthony Knight. With Brekke sick with influenza and Johnson out with a pulled hamstring against Idaho State, Newell took his turn as the go-to guy.
In Montana State’s 44-39 win over the Bengals — a victory that kept MSU’s Big Sky title hopes for another week — Newell bruised his way to 110 tough yards, including 17 on a powerful touchdown run that knotted the action at 30.
Not bad production from a one-time preferred walk-on who worked his way into being a full scholarship player after two years in the program.
“Hard work doesn’t even begin to sum it up,” MSU head coach Rob Ash said. “Chad is exactly the type of guy that every coach loves to have on his team. He’s always in a good mood. In fact, we were watching tape of practice (Tuesday) and watching Chad running around there…everyone was tippy toeing around in the snow and fiddling with the cold and so forth and Chad is running around out there in six inches of snow like it was a perfectly dry day at full speed. That’s just the way he is. It’s an attitude thing that he brings to the program. That’s why he quickly moved from a walk-on to a full scholarship guy. He plays on every single special teams play. He does whatever we want him to do — block, catch, run, be a decoy, whatever. He’s probably one of our MVPs on this team.”
Newell is so versatile and consistent — he’s gained 503 yards from scrimmage and scored three touchdowns on 86 touches despite having less than six carries in eight games and catching no passes in five others — it’s easy to forget the tough road he’s traveled.
Newell rushed for 640 yards and six touchdowns his sophomore year at Senior to earn Class AA All-State honors and land on the radar of college teams around the state. As a junior, Newell led the state with 1,409 yards rushing and he scored 18 touchdowns. He looked like the next Montana-born running back that would star for the Bobcats or the Grizzlies.
During a non-conference basketball game on Dec. 21 of 2010, everything suddenly changed. Against Miles City, Newell jumped to block a shot and landed on the foot of a Cowboy. He suffered a compound fracture in two places to his right lower leg.
“I knew it wasn’t good when I tried to stand up and my leg was at a 90-degree angle,” Newell told former Billings Gazette sports editor Chad Newell in an interview in 2011. “I remember that being the worst pain I’ve ever had in my life. I don’t remember anything after that until they were wheeling me into the emergency room, and I saw a power drill and a hammer laying on the table.”
Surgeons used the drill to bore out the bone in his leg, the hammer to pound in a titanium rod. The day after his surgery, his injured leg swelled to twice its normal size. Compartment syndrome was the diagnosis. He needed more surgery to relieve the pressure in his muscles, a necessity if he didn’t want to have the limb amputated all together.
The Bronco rehabbed tirelessly for the next six months. By August of 2011, he was ready for his senior football season, but college recruiters hadn’t come with any offers after the injury. That fall, Newell rushed for more than 1,100 yards and scored 13 touchdowns. He was a second-team all-state pick but still no offer came from the Bobcats, a team he’d grown up rooting for.
In the spring of 2012, he received a preferred walk-on offer and an invite to MSU’s fall camp.
“For me, I don’t think I was ever taking a chance,” Newell said. “For me, I always wanted to come to Montana State. They gave the opportunity to and I took that opportunity and just kind of ran with it and did my best to be where I am now. I’ve put in a lot of work, just like every other guy on this team has. In my situation, I’m very thankful to be where I’m at. I have to thank the whole coaching staff, Coach Wilcox, my family, everyone. I haven’t gotten here alone.”
The Magic City native has brought an element to Treasure State toughness to the Bobcats. The Idaho State game was played in single-digit temperatures. Following the win, Newell expressed glee about battling the elements.
“In Montana, if you are playing in November, you are playing in this and this is what we live for,” he said. “All of us love coming out here and playing in it. Anyone else can tell you they are excited to play in the cold, but I don’t think you are unless you are from Montana.”
That love for the elements will be put to the test again this weekend. Bozeman got more than half a foot of snow on Tuesday night into Wednesday morning. The blanket has melted, but another winter storm is on the way and a low of six degrees could be reached on Saturday afternoon.
“Personally, I love the snow,” Newell said. “I was driving to campus and I thought, ‘Man, it’s beautiful out here.’ Anytime it snows, I have fun with it. (Tuesday) night, I was sliding around. I like the snow.”
After a 34-7 loss at rival Montana, a game that saw Newell get stuffed for 67 yards on 17 carries, the sophomore and his Bobcat teammates are glad to have one more chance to play, snow or shine.
“Anytime you make it to the playoffs, it’s a blessing to keep playing and extend your season,” Newell said. “We worked extremely hard to create this opportunity for ourselves. Now we are just trying to make the most of it.”