Today’s position: “X” Wide Receiver


As Montana State begins fall camp next, Skyline Sports will break down the Bobcats’ roster by highlighting prominent battles for playing time in each position group.

Today’s position: “X” wide receiver

The players: Mitchell Herbert (6-foot-4, 205-pound sophomore), Manny Kalfell (6-foot-2, 205-pound senior), Will Krolick (6-foot-1, 190-pound junior), Conner Sullivan (6-foot-4, 230-pound redshirt freshman) and Cam Sutton (6-foot-5, 190-pound true freshman).

What’s at stake: Herbert did enough during a breakout freshman season to be the assumed starter entering the spring. But he did not take a rep during spring drills after having off-season elbow surgery, leaving this competition wide open. The “X” position is the possession wide receiver spot in Montana State’s up-tempo offense and the Bobcats have plenty of candidates with the physical attributes required to play it. Herbert produced the most of the group last season. Kalfell and Krolick are the oldest guys in the group. But Connor Sullivan and Cam Sutton each bring a size element unique from the rest of the group to the equation that should make this a wide-open competition throughout fall camp.

Mitch Herbert high points copy 2How they fared in 2014: Herbert fulfilled the prophecy of many after his signing out of Sheldon High in Eugene, Oregon by cracking the rotation as a true freshman. Injuries to five veteran MSU receivers (Kalfell among them) helped open the door for a stellar rookie season that saw Herbert catch 28 passes for 339 yards and four touchdowns. He had a signature moment on an eight-yard touchdown catch to help MSU to a 59-56 win over Sacramento State and he had another with a one-armed over-the-shoulder catch in a 47-40 playoff loss to South Dakota State.

Kalfell was among MSU’s top four guys coming out of fall camp and was sharing time with Brian Flotkoetter at “X” before reinjuring his troublesome knee again. The former walk-on out of Bozeman High played in three games last season and caught two passes for 59 yards, including a 32-yard reception in a 43-33 win over Central Arkansas, Kalfell’s last game in 2014.

Krolick played in 10 games mostly on special teams. The lone Alaska native on the ‘Cats caught four passes for 38 yards, including a season-long of 18 yards. Krolick provides depth and has been crucial in helping his fellow receivers master the offense.

Sullivan spent last fall transitioning from playing 8-man football during his time in Ennis to learning the 11-man game. Sullivan has continued to progress and his formidable size — he weights more than every MSU linebacker and all but one Bobcat defensive end — makes him a unique prospect.

Since the day he chose Montana State over Montana, Sutton has been pumped as a player who could crack the rotation as a true freshman. His high school film shows a player with range who can catch the ball at its highest point. Last season at Norco High in California, Sutton caught 36 passes for 752 yards and nine touchdowns.

How they fared during spring practice: Since childhood, Herbert has suffered from a joint disorder known as osteochondritis dissecans (OCD or OD). The disorder causes cracks to form in cartilage and underlying bone due to blood deprivation. Herbert had multiple surgeries on his elbow (the afflicted area) as a youth. In the off-season, he had another surgery, a procedure that forced him to sit out all 15 spring practices.

Kalfell saw limited action during spring drills but still managed to consistently earn praise from MSU offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey despite his lack of head-turning plays.

Krolick also had a solid spring, anchoring the No. 2 receiving corps and catching his fair share of intermediate passing routes from backup quarterback Jake Bleskin.

Connor Sullivan

Conner Sullivan

Sullivan was one of the breakout players of the spring. His standout performance during the Triangle Classic spring game in Great Falls affirmed his position as a player who will threaten for playing time as a freshman. Sullivan’s ability to block on the edge is among the best on the MSU squad, something that will certainly help him see the field as the Bobcats look to improve on a rushing attack that rushed for more than 3,000 yards last season.

“Conner Sullivan had a great day and he’s had a great spring,” MSU wide receivers coach Cody Kempt said. “In our room, he’s been the biggest surprise. He’s earning a spot on that bus. He’s earning a spot next season to play for us.”

The case for Herbert: Herbert is a cerebral player who was able to grasp Montana State’s complex offense quickly. He also has a knack for rising to the occasion in big moments. Herbert’s ability to make plays in clutch situations — a 10-yard over-the-shoulder TD against Idaho State comes to mind — sets him apart in this group. His primary knock is his missed time in the spring and if it will cost him in his development.

Manny Kahfel

Manny Kahfel

The case for Kalfell: For what he lacks in game-breaking ability, Kalfell seems to do everything that is asked of him and he rarely makes mistakes. His development from walk-on to player who won a starting job as a junior is a testament to his work ethic. The thing that might keep him out of the starting lineup is the young talent that MSU has stockpiled at his position.

The case for Krolick: Krolick has been an integral part of the team fabric at MSU. He’s always ready when his name is called. What he lacks in game-breaking ability he makes up for in his willingness to mentor his teammates selflessly and help expedite their understanding of the offensive scheme.

The case for Sullivan: Sullivan’s potential is tremendous. It remains to be seen if he can thrive when he’s not going against overmatched MSU reserve defensive backs and instead trying to compete against top-tier Big Sky Conference starters. But his blend of speed, size and strength is like no other Bobcat. Expect to see Sullivan crack the rotation simply for his ability to wear out corners as a blocker on the perimeter.

The case for Sutton: Sutton’s case to play will almost entirely depend on his ability to grasp the offense. He has the physical ability to play right away so his ability to handle the mental strain and grind of fall camp and his aptitude in grasping the offense will be the key to cracking the rotation.

 What they must accomplish during fall camp: Coach Kempt has made it very clear that the wide receiver competition is wide open. The Bobcats will bring 12 players to fall camp and all 12 have a chance to start, Kempt said. One of the second-year coach’s favorite sayings is “Consistency is the hallmark of a champion.” Therefore, the players who rise to the top during fall camp will be the players who consistently execute what Montana State’s offense requires — crisp route running, flawless ball catching and high-effort blocking on the perimeter.


Also on the roster: None.

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

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