BOZEMAN — Wilson Brott and Curtis Amos shifted in tandem, moving to from right to left of the formation which doubled as the short side of the field in Portland.
Troy Andersen took the snap out of the shotgun and hesitated, reading the blocks in front of him. Brott and Amos, two of Montana State’s three senior tight ends, exploded off the ball, Brott sealing the Portland State defensive lineman in front of him as Amos blew his opposing defender five yards off the line of scrimmage.
The patience showed by Andersen paid off. The affirmative blocks opened a huge hole. Anyone that has watched the completely unique experiment that is Andersen playing quarterback for the Bobcats knows one thing is certain: if the converted running back/linebacker sees daylight, he sprints to it. And usually, he leaves all potential defenders in the dust.
On this particular play, Andersen’s majestic speed pushed him to a 63-yard touchdown that essentially sealed MSU’s 43-23 win to open Big Sky Conference play. The blocks of the tight ends that made the burst possible in the first place.
“Curtis, Wilson and Sully (Connor Sullivan) are all a huge part of our offense,” Andersen said. “They are a really physical group that like to hit heads.
“We are going to miss those guys next year.”
Last week in Montana State’s 24-23 win over Idaho, the momentum swing came on a broken pass play that Andersen turned into yet another long footrace to pay dirt. After nearly getting sacked and stripped, he wound the run back up the UI sideline. He out-ran most of the Vandals but a key seal by Sullivan and a downfield block by wide receiver Travis Jonsen finished Andersen’s eye-popping 60-yard touchdown that gave MSU the lead for good.
Sullivan, a 6-foot-5, 245-pounder from Ennis, has caught nine passes for 81 yards this season. Amos, a 6-foot, 235-pounder from Burleson, Texas, nor Brott, a 6-foot-5, 265-pounder from Billings, have caught a pass this season.
But the trio of fifth-year seniors have been essential elements of one of the most unique offensive attacks in the Big Sky Conference.
“We are lucky to have three guys like that,” MSU offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Brian Armstrong said. “They are smart, intellectual, cerebral guys. They get the game. They understand adjustments and big picture stuff. And they do a good job of coaching the younger guys. They take a lot of pride and ownership in their positions.”
Montana State has a long lineage of talented tight ends, most notably Joe Bignell, an All-American for MSU’s 1984 national championship team.
For most of the first decade of the 21st century, Montana State seemed to have a conveyor belt gifting the Bobcats with a string of 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight ends with Montana roots and hard-nosed work ethics.
Blake Wolf earned third-team All-American honors in 2004 playing for his uncle, Mike Kramer. Both hailed from Colton, Washington. After that, MSU had a starting tight end from Montana for almost a decade, from Miles City product Elliott Barnhart (6-foot-5, 250 pounds) to Missoula’s Brandon Bostick (6-4, 256) to Billings native Joe Schreibeis (6-4, 240) to Kyle Begger (6-2, 252), another Miles City product.
In 2011, Helena High grad Steven Foster earned second-team All-Big Sky honors as a junior before playing his senior season at offensive tackle. The next year, Tiai Salanoa broke the mold. The Southern California product earned All-Big Sky honors three years in a row, including first-team All-Big Sky honors as a senior in 2014.
In 2015, Beau Sandland was an FCS All-American before becoming an NFL seventh-round draft pick. In Jeff Choate’s first season the following year, the Bobcats returned more to the status quo with a group of workmanlike tight ends, led by Columbia Falls native Austin Barth, with mostly local roots and used mostly as part of Montana State’s power run game. That has continued this season with the senior trio bulldozing the way.
“Curtis Amos has been awesome this year,” Choate said. “Things people probably aren’t going to notice except for us when we go and break down the film, but he’s been as good a player as we have. Whether it’s in-line or as a wing guy for us, he’s been really, really good.
“Sully has been really, really good and that hasn’t always been his MO. He was always a receiver who we’d ask to do tight end things. Now he’s thriving there.
“And you bring Wilson Brott in the game and he’s like having an extra offensive lineman. Those guys are awesome. I think our tight ends have been really critical for us.”
The journey of Amos, Sullivan and Brott has been anything but typical.
Amos came to Montana State as a 3-star recruit who many FBS programs in Texas could not find a position for. MSU recruited him as an athlete, giving him the choice of offense or defense when he arrived on campus. He wanted to play offense but ended up playing defensive end out of necessity to get MSU through fall camp in 2014. Part way through that first redshirt year, he moved back to tight end.
In 2015, Amos played mostly on special teams with Sandland and Barth ahead of him in the tight end rotation. He made five tackles on special teams. At the end of a 5-6 season, MSU’s first losing campaign since 2001, Rob Ash, the head coach that recruited Amos and his classmate tight ends, was fired.
“Coach Choate came in and had a different way of running things than Ash did and there was a lot of us that liked what we are doing, was going to be better for us as a team and better for us as a program,” Amos said. “There’s a lot of us that stuck through and there’s some that didn’t. But overall, Choate has done a lot, football aside, a great job of showing us what it takes to be a man. He’s helped grow and shape a lot of us today.”
While most of the Bobcats bought into Choate’s ideals right away, the initial shock of the move left some of the players, including Brott, wondering what would come next.
“Everyone at first was a little bit confused because that was Coach Ash’s first losing season in quite awhile,” Brott said. “Everyone was confused as to why it would happen then. But I think it’s brought great things to the program.
“Coach Choate and all the other coaches, they are great guys, awesome dudes off the field. You can go into the offices, talk to them, they are very personable and really care about you as a person outside of football and in football, too. They will never belittle you or anything. They respect you on a personal level. They have brought a great change here, especially in the locker room. You can see it. There are some very quality guys in there. In years past, it has not been as great of quality of guys. They have done a great job of recruiting to a culture of great young men.”
While Amos only dabbled on the defensive line, the other two tight ends have experience all over the field. Sullivan came to Montana State as a big-bodied wide receiver who had just led Ennis to the Class C state championship by physically dominating both sides of the football. He played wide receiver as a redshirt, then in 2015 as well, catching seven passes in Ash’s final year guiding MSU.
Choate switched Sullivan to tight end during the spring of 2016, a shift that required Sullivan to gain 25 pounds to get up to 250 pounds. It also took a shift in mentality for a player who had spent most of his life playing on the perimeter offensively.
“It was tough at first, going from blocking 180-pound corners and now I’m blocking 275-pound defensive ends,” Sullivan said. “Getting that mindset to be physical every play, that I am not just going to manhandle this. I have to bring it, that took a little bit. But I’m there now.”
Sullivan has been the most statistically involved of the trio — he caught seven passes for 178 yards and a 53-yard touchdown against Eastern Washington as a sophomore and had six catches for 49 yards as a junior — but it’s been his personal growth under Choate’s guidance that has been most noticeable.
“He just demands more out of us,” Sullivan said. “He makes us more tough and disciplined. He has helped me out tremendously. I was very immature and he’s helped me mature into the man I am now. He’s done a great job with not only me but everyone in this program.”
Brott has had perhaps the most stringent transition. Growing up in Billings, he thought his path to college athletics was on the basketball court rather than the gridiron. After showing some raw potential as an athlete while playing quarterback for Billings West, Brott earned a preferred walk-on offer from Ash and his staff to play tight end.
At 200 pounds, he struggled with the physicality of the move at first. He focused on trying to study the skill sets of talented players like Salanoa, Sandland and Lee Perkins.
By 2016, setting an alarm to wake up and drink a protein shake and eating too much whenever he could helped Brott get up to 240 pounds. Then in the spring leading up to Choate’s second season, Brott joined his younger brother Mitch as an offensive lineman for a time.
“Putting on weight, that was the biggest challenge I faced,” Brott said. “Also the physicality of going from quarterback to going to a high level on the line, having to bang heads with people. That was a little bit of a shocker at first.
“But mostly, it was the eating.”
Brott got up to as heavy as 285 pounds.
“I had a few big dinners and I was pushing 290, but I never got to 300,” Brott said with a laugh.
Because of his time playing on the offensive line, Brott has been able to provide tips to Sullivan and Amos when it comes to in-line blocking. Because of his time playing wide receiver, Sullivan has been able to teach his tight end teammates how to run their routes more precisely. Amos is the go-to for advice when playing as an H-back, wing or any portion of MSU’s offense that requires the tight end go be in motion before the snap.
“We rely on each other a lot,” Sullivan said. “We have known each other for five years and we’ve gone through it all together. Whenever we have a question about something, we can ask each other.”
The five-year journey helped Brott build great pride in himself. As he reflected on his career, he said he found himself looking at old rosters, counting the number of players that had come and gone during his time as a Bobcat.
“There were 101 guys I’ve seen in this program, leave who didn’t make it five years,” the exercise science major said. “I pride myself in that. I’m pretty proud of myself for finishing. That’s something you where you say you started something and you finished it, got the job done.”
Brott has built confidence from his dedication while Sullivan has found himself through maturation. He still remembers his first collegiate snap. Everyone around the state of Montana still remembers his touchdown catch to seal MSU’s 24-17 win over Montana in Missoula in 2016.
“But I’ve never seen the playoffs,” said Sullivan, who is closing in on his education degree. “We went my redshirt freshman year but I’ve never played in it. I want to finish with something like that.
“I’ve been very fortunate that I have not had a serious injury. It’s a lot of work but I feel extremely blessed to be able to make it five years. It’s been the best decision of my life to come here.”
Sullivan and Brott have long been a part of planning an annual camping excursion near Norris each summer many of the Bobcats participate in. Galvanizing players for around the country has been a hallmark of the Bobcat football program for years.
Amos was once part of a group of Bobcats from the Lone Star State that made up more than 20 percent of Montana State’s roster. Now there are only five Texas players playing for MSU. But Amos said that’s been one of his favorite parts of his experience, giving him the opportunity to “make connections and forge relationships” with players from around the country, players like freshman tight end Derryk Snell, a native of Alaska who Amos has grown close with this fall.
Along the journey, Amos also found himself a future wife. He proposed to his girlfriend Maggie Green, a Bozeman native, before the Wagner game. The moment put a stamp on the full circle journey he and his tight end teammates have navigated over the last five years.
“Wilson and Sully, those are two guys that are Montana who have taken me in and showed me the Montana way,” Amos said. “I’ve learned a lot of the Montana lifestyle. I love it here. And I ended up getting a Montana fiancé. You can really say this experience changed my life.”
Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.