Kaleb Winterburn

Kaleb Winterburn accounted for 43 touchdowns at quarterback for Helena High, but he projects as a defensive back at Montana State.


BOZEMAN — The NCAA’s early signing period for football began Wednesday morning with Montana State first announcing on social media the addition of 260-pound running back Tyler Natee, a dropdown from the University of Indiana and a product of Trinity High School in Euless, Texas, which has been fertile ground for the Bobcats in the past.

But Natee, who MSU coach Jeff Choate later referred to as “Big Bacon” during a press conference at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse, was just one of 16 new additions. The Bobcats signed 15 scholarship players and added one preferred walk-on to a program that Choate believes is on more solid footing personnel-wise since his rebuilding project began two years ago.

To that point, the foundation of the MSU program, as Choate has said, will always be built on Montana kids, and the Bobcats tabbed seven from the Treasure State in this recruiting cycle.

“The Montana kids, we recruited these kids for 12 months,” Choate said. “This was not a short recruiting cycle.

“The guys that we targeted in the state of Montana, many of them are young men that we offered on signing day a year ago, and they followed through with us. We felt like we added value to our roster really in all three phases with the in-state kids.”

This is the first year the NCAA has allowed for an early signing period for football. The next signing day is Feb. 7.

Choate estimated MSU will sign somewhere between 6-10 players in February to complete its 2018 recruiting class.

Following is a breakdown of MSU’s in-state signings from Wednesday:

Nolan Askelson, LB, Billings Senior: Askelson played both offense and defense while helping Senior win back-to-back state championships. He was named Class AA’s defensive MVP in 2017. In-state recruiting head (and special teams coach) B.J. Robertson said Askelson was drawn to MSU to study engineering.

Lane Sumner, RB, Huntley Project: The speedy Sumner rushed for 1,592 yards and 15 TDs in the fall, including a 234-yard, two-touchdown effort at Bobcat Stadium against Missoula Loyola in August. Sumner stands just 5-8, but does not lack a physical streak and can break tackles.

Logan Kleinhans, WR, Bozeman: He caught 48 passes for 748 yards and five touchdowns this past fall. Robertson said Kleinhans’ can also excel on special teams as a returner. “He has the ability to take it the distance,” Robertson said.

Jory Choate, LB, Bozeman: The coach’s son, Choate is the only preferred walk-on on the list. He led Class AA in both sacks and tackles for loss but did not receive a scholarship, to which Jeff Choate said, “If we weren’t talking about my son, he might be signing something. I think he’s one of the top 15 players in the state and there’s no question about it.”

Kaleb Winterburn, DB, Helena: Winterburn accounted for 43 career touchdowns and quarterbacked Helena to the state title game in the fall, but he is projected to play defensive back for the Bobcats. “Longer frame, measures out well, long arms, going to be an outstanding defender for us,” Robertson said.

Joe McElroy, TE, Missoula Loyola: McElroy played both offense and defensive line in high school, but profiles as a tight end at MSU. Said Robertson: “We’re looking at him to transition (to tight end). If you see him play basketball you can see he has great, soft hands.”

Mark Estes, WR, Kalispell Glacier: Originally an 8-Man player at Drummond, Estes transferred to Glacier for his senior season. Robertson commented on Estes’ speed — he’s a state sprinting champion — and his ability to blow the top off the defense.

Below is a look at MSU’s out-of-state haul:

Casey Bauman, QB, Everson, Washington: Bauman is listed at 6-6 and 225 pounds. He accounted for 42 touchdowns as a senior at Nooksack Valley High. Recruiting coordinator Michael Pitre said Bauman “is a big-time athlete” who averages 25 points per game in basketball.

Justin Cauley, RB, Venice, California: He rushed for 1,500 yards and 22 TDs as a senior. Cauley’s running prowess is obvious, but Pitre said MSU was also attracted to his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.

Ty’Rese and Ty’Rhae Gibson, DBs, Lawndale, California: Pitre said MSU had been recruiting the Gibson twins for a year and a half. “They’re coming in and playing as (defensive backs) but obviously those guys can play on either side of the ball because of their skill set,” Pitre said.

Derryk Snell, TE, Anchorage, Alaska: Snell attended camp at MSU and was sold immediately, Pitre said. Snell’s versatility stands out for the Bobcats’ coaches, which added up to him being named the Gatorade player of the year in Alaska.

Here is a breakdown of the Bobcats’ transfer additions:

Travis Jonsen, QB, Riverside CC: Jonsen started his career at Oregon, lost the Ducks’ starting job to MSU transfer Dakota Prukop in 2016 and eventually landed in the junior college ranks. Choate said Jonsen immediately boosts the competition level for Chris Murray and the Bobcats’ other quarterbacks.

Tyler Natee, RB, Indiana: Natee did not see the field for the Hoosiers last season but appeared in 10 games as a true freshman in 2016 and earned all-freshman honors in the Big Ten. Choate said Natee’s arrival may allow Troy Andersen to be more of a full-time defensive player.

Bryce Sterk, DE, Washington: The Bobcats need immediate help on the pass rush, and Choate said Sterk, who only played two games in three years for the Huskies, fits that bill. Choate recruited Sterk to Washington when he was an assistant coach there. Sterk “is a big dude that can run,” Choate said.

Tristan Bailey, K, Coffeyville CC: Choate said Bailey, who began his career at the University of Wyoming, has a big leg and can be a weapon for MSU on kickoffs and increase competition and depth on placements.

​Email Greg Rachac at greg.rachac@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @gregrachac

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