HAMILTON — Hamilton wide receiver Tyler Chouinard has himself in some pretty rare company this fall, and it's not just because his Broncs are headed to the Class A state title game against Columbia Falls on Saturday.
He's quietly had one of the best 11-man football seasons Montana has ever seen. The silent-but-deadly statistical year matches Chouinard's unassuming character.
"He’s pretty sneaky with what he says sometimes; you gotta force some things out of him to get him to talk," Hamilton coach Bryce Carver said, laughing. "That isn’t the worst thing in the world to have on a team, though. He’s a guy who can lead by example instead of talking."
Chouinard is also leading the state a handful of statistical categories.
With the championship game still to play, Chouinard has racked up 1,262 yards receiving, which is the best in Class A by over 600 yards, according to maxpreps.com.
Those numbers are also historic.
According to the Montana High School Association football record book, Chouinard's 1,200-plus yards is the second-best season total ever. If he doesn't catch a single pass against Columbia Falls on Saturday — something extremely unlikely (he has at least two receptions in each game this season) — he would still have 25 more yards receiving than the current No. 2 on the list: One Marc Mariani. You know, the University of Montana great who carved out a Pro Bowl appearance in the NFL.
Rare company indeed.
"I didn't even know that," Chouinard said with surprised laughter. He grew up watching Mariani and the Griz. "That means a lot — I don't really like to give myself a lot of credit, I think it should all be about the team — but that feels great."
Carver, Hamilton's first-year head coach, was a freshman on the Grizzlies when Mariani was a senior, so for Carver to be asked to compare a senior in high school with a state legend may be a tad unfair.
But Carver, who was also catching passes for the Maroon and Silver can definitely see a similar archetype between the two.
"Obviously a little bit different... (Mariani) was a walk-on there and really fought for what he did," the Broncs' coach said. "You can see the hard-work mentality that they both have, and any player that plays at that (Class A) level has that."
Carver has also been in a unique situation where he's had the chance to see Chouinard grow as a football player. The Broncs' skipper started his coaching career as Hamilton's wide receivers coach and offensive coordinator. Chouinard was a freshman that year.
"We’ve kind of all gone through the same process together. ... I’ve always had Ty as one of my players and he’s a guy who I’ve grown extremely close with," Carver said.
The coach recalled a junior varsity game in Chouinard's sophomore season when Carver knew Hamilton had something special.
Dillon's now-varsity running back Graden Greenslade and Chouinard were in their own sort of shootout, trading touchdown after touchdown. Carver remembers the final score being something like 53-52. Chouinard still sounded disappointed that his Broncs lost, but his head coach remembers the game fondly in ways.
"You could see that the kid could make plays and go up and get the ball, and (Chouinard) had a knack for scoring," Carver said.
Oh, yeah — Chouinard scores touchdowns too. He has 12 receiving TDs on the season, tied for the best in the state. He had 157 yards receiving and two scores against defending state champion Dillon this season.
Just like last time, Greenslade countered with a big game. He rushed for 136 yards and a touchdown.
But this time, Hamilton won. It put a linchpin in the Broncs' eventual Southwest A title and gave coach Carver a win against his high school alma mater.
Now the senior, who hardly ever leaves the field, has a chance to help deliver Hamilton's first state title since the Broncs were back-to-back championship victors in 1997 and 1998.
Chouinard, who also leads the state with nine interceptions (one away from joining the MHSA leaderboard), was quick to point out the rest of his teammates. He said they're the reason for his individual success as well as Hamilton's tremendous season.
"I just gotta give credit to our O-line, our running back — all of our teammates. Without them, I wouldn't be able to do what I do," Chouinard said.
And it would be unfair not to mention the surefire all-state seasons his running back (Bridger Bauder); or quarterback (Carson Rostad); or even fellow wide out (Camron Rothie); are having.
But somebody needs to speak up about Chouinard's season because it's been that good.
Even if Tyler himself wouldn't tell you.