Joe McElroy has been a Cats fan his whole life, so when the Montana State football program offered him a scholarship this spring, there wasn't much point in waiting.
The Loyola Sacred Heart junior became the first future Bobcat in MSU's recruiting class of 2018 by giving his verbal commitment earlier this month. Though he grew up in Missoula in the shadows of Griz country, McElroy's loyalties have always fallen to the East.
"The values that they teach matched up with the values that my family and Loyola have taught me," McElroy told the Missoulian this past weekend. "It just kind of worked out."
McElroy stands 6 feet, 4 inches and weighs in at 240 pounds. At the Class B level of play in Montana high school football, those measurements are tailor made for the offensive line's left tackle position.
And McElroy has been a very good one for the Rams. He made first-team all-state on the O-line as a junior -- and at defensive tackle too -- while helping Missoula's Catholic high school reach the State B championship game.
Though he plays tackle at Loyola, the outer-most O-line spot tasked with stopping edge pass rushers, McElroy said the Cats haven't specified where they see him at college. He could shift inside to guard or even center.
That won't be a problem for a player of his athleticism, Loyola head coach Todd Hughes said. McElroy could even play tight end if the Cats would rather keep him from bulking up, the coach figured. He's that diverse in skill and that quick on his feet.
He's big and burly, but moves like a player half his size, Hughes continued, citing McElroy's days as a former basketball point guard -- before the growth spurt -- and his current tenure on the Rams' tennis team.
"When you put all those things together in one pot, you've got yourself some pretty good stew," Hughes quipped.
Hughes believes McElroy's great leap forward as a junior helped earn him his college scholarship. Though he's been a massive individual for some time, he didn't always play like it in his early seasons at Loyola. A year ago he started working with former Griz tight end Steven Pfahler at Pfahler Sport Specific.
He added strength and found his killer instinct ahead of his breakout junior season.
"This kid was game ready Day 1 of football practice," Hughes recalled. "They were in shape. That's the biggest change in him, that mental attitude that he's coming in ready to go."
He caught the eye of both the hometown Grizzlies and fellow FCS member North Dakota, though the Bobcats were the first to jump in with an offer.
Montana State's football staff is prohibited from commenting on recruits before National Signing Day next February when high schoolers may make their commitments official with a National Letter of Intent.
McElroy, whose older brother Jake also plays college football at Montana Western, isn't the only Garden City athlete to make a college choice recently. Missoula Sentinel's Nick Germer became Montana's first class of '18 commit just last week while a few others have chosen NAIA routes in other sports.
Sentinel's Mytty signs with Tech hoops
Forward Will Mytty signed with Montana Tech to play basketball last week after a standout career at Missoula Sentinel.
Mytty, who stands 6-5, was the Spartans' second-leading scorer this past winter with 10.3 points per game during an all-conference senior season that ended at the State AA tournament in Great Falls.
Mytty also averaged 5.5 rebounds per game with 1.4 steals and another 1.4 blocks.
Big Sky's Malone headed to Carroll for track
All-state jumper Josh Malone signed with Carroll College and will join the Saints' track and field team after graduation from Missoula Big Sky this spring.
Malone, a 6-3 three-sport athlete with the Eagles, is the top returning triple-jump performer in Class AA. He set a personal record of 44 feet last year.
The Big Sky senior took fifth in the long jump at the State AA meet last year in Missoula with a leap of 21 feet, 4.75 inches, also a PR.
Drummond's Fickler also picks Carroll track
The Carroll College women's track and field team also plucked Claire Fickler out of the area and the Drummond sprinter will run for the Saints next year.
Fickler is a two-time State C champion in the 100 meters and also has two silvers in the 200, all before her final state meet next month. She likely would be shooting for a fourth straight gold in the 100 had she not missed her sophomore track season because of an injury from basketball that winter.
She won the 100 in 12.84 seconds last year, though that's still off her PR of 12.65 set during her freshman campaign in 2014.
Fickler also placed second in the long jump at state in 2016 and was sixth in the 400 meters.
Glacier's Bedard takes on Carroll pitch
The Capital City gained another student-athlete from Western Montana, this time for the Carroll College soccer team.
Saints soccer coach Doug Mello announced the signing of Kalispell Glacier's Parker Bedard. The Wolfpack defensive midfielder was the first in-state signee of Carroll's 2017 recruiting class. He's a three-year letter winner and was first-team all-conference in 2015.