Trace Timmer came to Montana State the son of an MSU Hall of Famer, Kirk Timmer’s second son but the first to become a Bobcat. Rather than let the expectations weigh heavily on his mind, the Montana State senior has spent the last five seasons trusting the process.
On Saturday, five years of enduring the rigors of college football, five seasons of waiting for his turn, five seasons of showing that patience really does pay off will be on full display at Bobcat Stadium. Timmer will likely earn a start in a game that matters to the Great Falls native most. His Bobcats will look to secure a 14th straight winning season by defeating bitter rival Montana at Bobcat Stadium.
“It’s a huge rivalry and growing up with my dad being a Bobcat, we are die-hard,” said Timmer. “I have a couple of friends on the Griz, which makes it fun but at the same time, it’s one of the biggest rivalries in college football and that outweighs everything else.”
Timmer decided early on to try to maximize his own skills both mentally and physically rather than walking in his father’s shadow or choosing a different path like his older brother, Ty. Kirk Timmer was a tackling machine, a first-team All-Big Sky Conference linebacker on Montana State’s 1984 national championship team. Kirk’s older brother, Troy, was an All-Big Sky defensive tackle on that same team.
Trace came to Montana State on a half scholarship as a safety after a standout career at Great Falls High. When he signed with Montana State in 2011, Ty was already a linebacker at Montana. But Ty had his career, just like Trevan, the youngest Timmer brother, cut short by injury. Trace moved from safety to cornerback midway through his career, battling various injuries throughout.
Following the graduation of Darius Jones in 2012 and Sean Gords in 2013, it looked like Trace Timmer may be the front-runner for a starting job at one of Montana State’s cornerback positions. But the Bobcat coaching staff brought in Nevada transfer Bryson Keeton to man the spot opposite Deonte Flowers last season. During spring drills and in fall camp in August, Timmer showed flashes of a veteran who might be able to contribute but ultimately fell behind freshman Tre’Von Strong on the depth chart.
“Adversity is all it is,” Timmer said. “I’ve overcome injuries. Rotations, guys coming in. I’ve had to stick with it. I’ve had moments of doubt, definitely. But that made me stronger as a player. I’ve had heart to hearts with myself, with my dad, with my brothers and I think that made me a better football player and more bought in by doing that and thinking about that.”
Because of injuries, hard work and a steady discipline to reach this point, Timmer has survived and will do something neither of his brothers did: he will start in the fiercest rivalry in the West in the final game of his college career.
“He’s a guy who has a ton of grit, man,” Montana State cornerbacks coach Mike Rider said. “He’s fought through some injuries and adversity. But he’s a very unselfish player. He does what is asked of him, whether that is defense or special teams, he’s going to give everything he’s got. He’s got that blue-collar work ethic to him.”
Saturday will certainly be a landmark moment for Timmer and his family. Kirk and his mother, the former Kelly Angelos, herself a Montana State basketball star, will surely be in attendance. But Saturday will not mark his first start or his first time in the limelight of the Cat-Griz rivalry.
In Montana State’s 34-23 loss to Southern Utah, Keeton suffered a concussion. Timmer came off the bench to notch three tackles and a tackle for loss as MSU rallied to no avail. Last week, in a 44-20 win over pass-happy Idaho State, Timmer earned his first career start and thrived. Despite ISU taking shots down the sideline to try to exploit Timmer in one-on-one coverage, the senior had his best game. Timmer broke up a touchdown pass in the end zone, ripping the ball from the hands of ISU All-America wide receiver Madison Mangum. He would add 13 tackles, including 11 solo stops, and a pass breakup as MSU won for the first time on the road in seven outings.
“Trace has had a fantastic career for us because he’s been so patient,” MSU head coach Rob Ash said. “He has never been a full-time starter for an entire season or anything like that. He’s had to make his niche on special teams and early in his career on the scout team. He didn’t come in here as a highly heralded player but a guy we knew would be a great team player.
“I think his success and the contributions he’s made, particularly the great game he played last week is just a fitting conclusion to his career. I know he is excited to play in this Cat-Griz game. It’s not about his family history or his father playing here. Trace is excited that he gets a chance to play THIS game. He’s in the moment right now and I think he will do a great job.”
Some of Timmer’s earliest memories of Bobcat Stadium are from his days as a middle school kid standing on the sideline watching Mike Kramer’s Bobcats try to snap “The Streak”. Timmer remembers the 2003 game, the year after MSU posted a 10-7 win in Missoula, the Bobcats’ first over the hated Griz since 1986. In 2003, Corey Smith returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown as Montana State gutted out a 27-20 victory.
Ten years later, Timmer was thrown into the fire. Because of a slew injuries in MSU’s secondary, Timmer had to play the final series of the first half during UM’s 28-14 win in 2013.
In 2014, he broke through as one of the “core” players on Montana State’s special teams. He appeared in all 13 games, notching 13 tackles and a pass breakup. This season, he has 20 tackles mixed between special teams and defensive action.
“I love Trace and I trust him almost more than a lot of people because of the time and experience we’ve had together,” Montana State senior captain Taylor Sheridan said. “I feel bad for Trace because he’s had so many different injuries throughout this whole thing. I know a lot of people could’ve thrown in the towel after however many shoulder surgeries he’s had. But Trace is a warrior. He’s been through it all. That’s why I have so much trust in him.”
Statistics aside, perhaps the greatest accomplishment of Timmer’s career has been reaching his final season. Ty blew out his knee as a junior in high school. During his redshirt freshman season in 2010, Ty ripped the articular cartilage off the bone in the same knee. The injury hampered him throughout the next season and into spring drills. Ty retired after his redshirt sophomore season. Trevan Timmer suffered a shoulder injury in high school and several college concussions that ended his career after less than two seasons as a Bobcat.
“It’s tough to watch those guys and it makes me want to play for them as well because their careers ended short and it makes me enjoy playing for them because they always come watch me play,” Timmer said. “They can live through me.
“It’s a bigger task than a lot of people think to make it through. It’s a bigger time spent, a lot of time, it’s tough on your body. There’s a lot of emotional roller coasters. It feels like a big accomplishment to be able to finish.
“I’ve learned how to fight through things and that you are capable of completing more than you think you are. Not giving up has been the biggest goal.”
Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.