Choate and staff find the Right Cats

By National Signing Day on Feb. 1, the Montana State University Football Team has committed 23 new athletes, including three transfers for the 2017-2018 season. Locally, MSU won six Montana athletes over the University of Montana.

Jeff Choate, a former assistant coach at the University of Washington, started as head coach last spring. He and his new staff have reformed the Bobcat football philosophy and prominent recruiting areas.

Michael Pitre, the running back coach and recruiting coordinator explained  recruiting as a year round process. “I get emails from freshmen kids who want to get on the radar … recruiting has now become, especially with social media, 365 days a year,” he said.

The process begins with player identification by the staff. Each coach has a particular region that they recruit from, so they identify athletes in the area. Then, the prospects undergo a film, academic and social evaluation by the staff. The coach of the specific region also talks to high school coaches, views different recruiting websites and works their relationships in the area to identify players. But what is recruiting really all about? Pitre said, “at the end of the day, it ends up being marketing and sales, so we have to make sure that our product is in front of them as often as possible.”

The final product is Choate’s team and recruiting philosophies. “His philosophy is about relationships, loyalty and being blue collar,” Pitre explained. “Blue collar meaning don’t be afraid of the hard work, don’t be afraid of getting outside of your comfort zone, getting dirty, confrontation is okay as long as it comes from the right place, challenging each other and competing. [It’s] the same thing we are doing in recruiting.”

For recruiting, an area of focus for the coaches is to find “The Right Cat”, or TRC. This person needs to have qualifications under the categories of individual, student and athlete. As an individual, he needs to have great character, a positive vibe, be coachable/competitive, love football and completely buy into Choate’s philosophy. As a student, he needs to have a 2.5 core GPA and obtaining a degree needs to be a top priority both to the athlete and his family. As an athlete, he needs to be a productive player, be athletic and fluid, have explosive power and be tough, both mentally and physically.

Pitre explained the importance of TRC as something that, “we instill in ourselves and these young men. Our responsibility is to teach them how to be great husbands and fathers; if we lose sight of this, we lose sight of what it means to be a great football coach and mentor.”

For the 2017 recruiting season, players were selected from Montana, Washington, Idaho, Florida, California, Georgia and Oregon. The largest region difference seen is in the absence of recruits from Texas, and the new-found ground in Florida.

Each coach has a specific recruiting area that is based on his relationships. Pitre was adamant on the importance of relationships in recruiting. It would be ill-minded to send someone down to recruit in an area where they have no former relationships. They may be able to bring in some athletes, but won’t be nearly as successful. This is primarily due to the trust that must be installed between the coaching staff, the recruit and his family. The prospect’s parents are, “sending their child to be with you for the next four to five years.” Considering this, it is important to have the parents trust their ability to, “develop them as football players, but more importantly as people.”

A strong attribute of the coaching staff, as Pitre said, is, “four guys in our staff have been head football coaches in the collegiate level. This helps young coaches continue to develop and for Choate to lean on people for how to handle situations. They have had to recruit for their programs, so they know what kids to bring in to build a program and a championship program.”

Choate has brought on two other coaches who hold strong influences in regions other than Montana. One is the offensive line coach, Brian Armstrong, who is given credit for securing two strong athletes this year out of Florida. He was a head coach for both a high school and collegiate program in the southern state. This background has provided Armstrong solid relationships to build off of for recruiting.

The recruiting domain is expanding to Canada and Alaska. The reasoning behind this is that they are border states. Canada has prep schools, where athletes from the states attend school for an extra year. Pitre said the logic in expanding to the northern neighbor is that, “Boise [State University] has had success in this. They can handle the weather, and there are good players everywhere, but what we are doing well is not just recruiting the entire country … We have seen good players to come from both Alaska and Canada.” Assistant Coach B.J. Robertson holds a camp up in Alaska, granting him access to building relationships to the top prospects in the state.

But, recruiting in Texas has not ceased. Former Bobcat quarterback and legend, Denarius McGhee, is now the quarterback coach for the team. As a Texas native and Trinity High School graduate, he is planning on regaining the Bobcat foothold in the area. Pitre stated, “We recruited Texas, we had kids on our board from Texas but we are not getting out of Texas. But this year it worked out that we didn’t sign anyone from Texas. Having Denarius and having guys familiar with the Texas layout, creating direct flights from Dallas to Bozeman, possibly going to have one in Houston. Flights, what makes sense, if it takes 16 hours or a full day to get home it probably isn’t conducive for him. We will definitely continue to have our footprint in Texas.”

Overall, the Bobcats dominated the 2017 recruiting season, taking in three former state champions and gaining new ground geographically. Choate’s first freshmen class finished with a 3.4 average GPA and had four 4.0 students. The incoming class holds an average of 3.37. They are confident that they are bringing in, The Right Cats.