BOZEMAN — Kyle Risinger has a “pick board” hanging in his office in the corner of Brick Breedin Fieldhouse where Montana State football coaches and players call home for the better part of each calendar year. Every time a Bobcat snares an interception, that Bobcat gets to put his name on the board.
Right now, 100 percent of the names that belong to MSU defensive backs on that board live under the same roof.
“There’s six interceptions in that household alone, those two guys,” Montana State cornerbacks coach Mark Orphey said. “They’ve both been a great addition, especially to our young guys coming up. They are two guys these young guys look up to even though they’ve only been here a short time.”
The two guys who’s names are on the board in Risinger’s office are one of Risinger’s safeties and one of Orphey’s cornerbacks, a pair of off-season additions that are paying big dividends so far this season for the Bobcats.
Jahque Alleyne, a 6-foot-1, 170-pound junior free safety who transferred to Montana State from Virginia Tech, leads the Big Sky Conference with four interceptions, exactly half of MSU’s total for the season.
Gregory “Munchie” Filer III, a 6-foot-1, 170-pound cornerback who transferred to Montana State from Compton College, has two interceptions so far this season, including one he returned 27 yards for a touchdown against Weber State last week.
“If you get a turnover or an interception, the guys are the ones that come in to my office and put their name up,” said Risinger, MSU’s second-year safeties coach. “It’s gotten to the point where it’s like, ‘Hey Coach Kyle, I’m going to be up on that board this week.’
“Turnovers are contagious. Now that we have guys in our room with a few, you hear guys saying, ‘I’ve gotta get mine.’”
Montana State has eight interceptions this season after totaling 15 in Jeff Choate’s first two seasons as head coach, including just five last season. Alleyne and Filer have all six picks by Bobcat defensive backs, although linebacker Brayden Konkol made his interception as a safety in MSU’s season-opening 26-23 win over Western Illinois. Buck end Dante Sparaco had an interception on a tipped pass against Weber State last week.
“We pride ourselves on being the best secondary in the country,” said Alleyne, who will be part of an MSU secondary that will try to slow down Idaho State’s prolific passing offense on Saturday. “We meet early in the mornings just to get some extra work in by ourselves, no coaches. In practice, we hold each other accountable. We watch pro football teams, how they run their defense, try to base our style of play off of them.”
The addition of a pair of transfers has helped infuse the Bobcat defense with two talented players who have set the interception pace.
“They fit in extremely well,” Choate said. “With transfers, that’s the one thing you are concerned about is how does it affect the chemistry of the room. I really think these two young men enhance the chemistry of the room and are bought in to what we are doing here. And they are making plays.”
On the surface, the duo appears to have a fair amount in common. Both are talented defensive backs that came to Montana State as transfers, each in search of a fresh start.
Alleyne, a native of Virginia Beach, Virginia moved to Montana in January after his time at Virginia Tech had run its course following the retirement of legendary head coach Frank Beamer. Alleyne went to school at Gallatin College to straighten out his eligibility, meaning he could not participate in any team activity until this summer.
Filer arrived to the Montana State campus from Compton, California on June 25. Alleyne picked him up from the airport. They lived together temporarily at the Stadium View apartments before getting an off-campus residence. Since this summer, the pair has learned just how different they are from one another.
“We are from completely different backgrounds,” Filer said. “It’s been regular, really. I’m the type of person that stays to myself. I don’t have enemies, I’m not antisocial but that’s just my personality. I don’t speak unless I’m spoken to unless the situation I’m in, I have to speak. He’s kind of like that, too. That’s what made me be like, ‘I’ll get an apartment with you’ because I noticed that about him the first couple of weeks I was here. He minds his own business and I mind my own business.
“At the end of the day, when we go home, we don’t really talk but when we do, it’s about what’s important. It’s always the topic of what we are going to do while we are here. We only have two years here. We will never forget what we came here for. We are in the same boat, the same situation. We feed off each other.”
The smooth, self-assured Alleyne carries himself with an outward confidence that has helped him rise to a leadership role on the Bobcat defense despite only being a part of the team since June. Filer carries himself with an inward confidence that is not as apparent right away but reveals itself when talking to the thoughtful new addition.
“Both of those guys are older, mature, roommates,” Choate said. “It’s funny because I think they talk to each other more here than they do at home. They kind of have separate worlds there. They are older guys, they know why they are here. They want to get a degree, they want to play football, they want to be good teammates.”
Virginia Beach is part of a stretch of small cities of Hampton Roads, often referred to as “America’s first region.” Dozens of professional athletes hail from the area, including legends like fearsome New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor, NFL career sacks record holder Bruce Smith and former No. 1 overall draft picks like quarterback Michael Vick, point guard Allen Iverson and center Alonzo Mourning all come from the area.
Moving to Montana in the middle of the winter was a shock in itself for Alleyne. He made friends with a few MSU defensive backs but being disconnected from the team for the first six months he lived in Bozeman did not make the transition any easier. Now that he’s a part of the team, he is adjusting to life in the Gallatin Valley.
“Comfort level is pretty good, I don’t feel uncomfortable, I like it out here,” Alleyne said. “I like the scenery, the mountains but I am ready to go back to Virginia, though. It’s about that time. It’s almost been a year. But I’m just taking it day by day.
“There was times when I didn’t even know if I was going to play football anymore. There were nights when I felt like I didn’t want to play football anymore. Now that I’m finally here, I’m glad it all worked out and paid off.”
Alleyne was a three-star recruit in 2015 coming out of Ocean Lakes High in Virginia Beach, a heralded, fertile and infamous recruiting ground that has produced some of the country’s most heralded and troubled athletes. He explored playing offense in college after playing wide receiver almost exclusively as a senior in high school.
“If you look at his high school tape playing receiver, he was actually a better receiver that he is a DB,” said Orphey, who first saw Alleyne when he was a graduate assistant at South Carolina and helped recruit Alleyne to MSU. “The way he attacks the ball, you see why he was a great receiver. He’s always around the ball no matter where he is.
As a true freshman at VA Tech in 2015, Alleyne played in all 12 games. In 2016, he sat out the first four games of the season due to suspension according to a report by Virginia Tech Insider. In January of 2017, he left one of the renowned and consistent defensive powerhouses in the FBS.
Alleyne finished the semester in the spring of 2017 at Virginia Tech before enrolling in a junior college. After Orphey contacted him, in order to regain his eligibility, he moved across the country to Southwest Montana.
Before he could join the Bobcats, he had to get his eligibility in order so he moved into an apartment, got a job and enrolled at Gallatin Valley College. He received no sort of financial assistance from the football program, did not participate in spring football and could not be around the team in any competitive form.
“I think he really appreciates this second chance,” Choate said. “You see that a lot of times when kids have to work really hard to give themselves an opportunity to be in the football field again. I think he’s enjoying it and has embraced that role in that room. I think there’s still a ceiling for him. He’s certainly playing well. But that’s what’s cool about it. He has a lot more growth to have at that position.”
During his two seasons playing in the ACC, Alleyne said it was a little easier to decipher between the contenders and pretenders. He said he and his teammates knew who the top teams were, setting up “collision courses”. That unpredictable nature of the Big Sky has taken some getting used to.
“It’s interesting,” Alleyne said with a laugh. “I wouldn’t say it’s harder but it’s a lot more challenging that I expected. I didn’t really think I was going to come in here and it would be a breeze but it’s definitely a lot more challenging. The Big Sky Conference is a battlefield. You definitely don’t know who is going to win. I’ve seen some teams beat some other teams and it was shocking.”
The stories of the streets of Compton have assumed a unique place in American lore mostly because of to the tales told by iconic West Coast rappers who helped bring hip hop into the mainstream in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Filer bounced around high schools growing up in Southern California, making stops at Compton High, Long Beach Jordan and Paramount. By the time the scrappy cornerback graduated, he did not hold a single Division I offer.
Filer refused to let his dream of playing college football at the highest level die, instead enrolling at Compton Community College. After gray shirting and playing in five games in 2016, the man they call “Munchie” finally had his breakthrough season. Last fall, Filer snared five interceptions, leading to a parade of suitors.
Montana State came to the table first in November. With Orphey serving as his prime recruiter, Filer gave his commitment to Montana State in January, choosing the Bobcats over offers from Portland State, Idaho State, Central Arkansas and Southeast Louisiana.
“Paying school was never an option, honestly,” Filer said then. “Me coming out of high school having no offers was for sure motivation to go harder at the next level to get offers.
“I’m not going to sit here and make a scene and make it seem like Compton is a bad place. That’s my home. I didn’t have it easy but it wasn’t hard. Did I go through it, did me and my family go through it coming up? Of course but I’m not going to sit here and complain and make it sound like a sob story. But coming from where I come from, is that motivation? Hell yeah, no doubt. That’s why I do what I do.”
Filer said acclimating to life in Bozeman “was really rough” at first. But he’s settling in and is thriving from a football experience with much more structure than he ever experienced at Compton College.
“At first, it was rough, definitely rough,” Filer said. “I only say that because this is my first time away from home and I’m on my own. It’s rough having to adapt but I’ve adapted very well. I like the city of Bozeman, it’s cool. The coaches make me feel comfortable and not only the coaches but everybody that is here around this facility. They just made me feel wanted. I didn’t hate it at first, it was just hard.”
“It’s been about learning the system and learning to be on my own. It’s about stepping up to the plate. Your best teacher is your own experience. It took me just experiencing the little things about playing Division I that come with it and taking it all in and growing from it.”
Right before fall camp commenced, the returning MSU defensive backs kept telling Orphey that Alleyne was a ball hawk. During fall camp, Choate immediately recognized Alleyne’s leadership and play making abilities.
Despite tweaking a pre existing knee injury against Western Illinois after securing his first interception, he has shown both a nose for the football and an added swagger to MSU’s back end.
“He’s very smart and a lot of times, he’s a very instinctual football player,” Risinger said. “He’s one of those guys who know exactly where he’s supposed to be, sees it so well and it’s natural. He’s fluid. You can tell watching him play he sees it well. He’s always had that in him. The skill set of being quick twitch, being one of our fastest guys, he has had the physical ability and now he understand our scheme and he has that natural ball-hawk mentality and now he’s showing up.”
Filer began fall camp as a No. 2 cornerback behind returners junior Damien Washington and sophomores Tyrel Thomas and Jalen Cole. He’s risen to the starting spot opposite Thomas because of his dedication to learning the Bobcat defensive scheme, honing his ability to play both boundary and field cornerback.
Choate said when Filer first started competing for a spot, the coaches told him to play “Cat defense”. In other words, “you guard that Cat right there.” That helped Filer’s stoke his internal fire. Once he masted the scheme, he began to emerge as a star in the Bobcat secondary.
“I definitely thrive off competition,” Filer said. “No disrespect to nobody. But I feel like if I was standing next to Deion Sanders, I’m the best. When competition comes about, it’s real and there’s really no pressure. I’ve been dealing with pressure for too long. It’s really regular to me. I don’t care who step into the room. I feed off my own energy, really. My motivation is what I went through and what I want to get. No disrespect but my biggest competition is myself.”
Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.