BOZEMAN -- Soft-spoken and unassuming, John Weidenaar was thrust into Montana State’s lineup as a redshirt freshman in 2012. He started all 13 games that year as the Bobcats won a share of the Big Sky Conference championship.
It wasn’t a depth issue or an injury that pressed Weidenaar into duty. It was a well-thought-out experiment.
This, coach Rob Ash said, was by design.
“We recruited John Weidenaar to be our starting left tackle, and we recruited him to be our starting left tackle as a redshirt freshman,” Ash said after practice this week in Bozeman. “We knew it would be a tough process because he had a long way to go from a weight-gain standpoint. He came in pretty light. But he did a really good job.
“We knew he’d be a little undersized but he had the skillset to do it. It’s been a great fit for him and for us.”
Weidenaar’s durability is astounding: He is 10 games shy of Montana State’s record for consecutive starts. The Bobcats’ opener against Fort Lewis on Sept. 3 will mark be his 39th in a row, all at left tackle.
Weidenaar was listed at 6-foot-7 and 235 pounds when he was recruited out of Manhattan High School in 2011. Now he’s 6-8 and 290, and obviously remains a major component of the Bobcats’ star-studded line that includes guards J.P. Flynn and Kyle Godecke, right tackle Alex Eekhoff and center Joel Horn.
Flynn, a junior, is considered by many to be the best offensive lineman in the Big Sky Conference. He was tabbed as a preseason first-team All-American by The Sports Network.
Weidenaar himself was a preseason All-Big Sky selection, but being the most experienced member of an already-experienced line is moot in his estimation.
During the Bobcats’ ongoing fall camp, you can see the way Weidenaar and his mates up front mesh. Quarterback Dakota Prukop has said more than once in the past week that a player needs to take 10,000 repetitions in practice for it to become second-nature.
For the amount of snaps the Bobcats’ offensive line has taken together over time, Prukop has a well-oiled machine in front of him.
“We’re all super experienced on the o-line. We all lead each other,” Weidenaar said. “If J.P. sees me not make the right block or something, or not give a full effort, he’s going to call me out. And I’m going to call him out. There’s an accountability factor.
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“I’ve played in a lot of games, but so have J.P., Joel, Kyle … we’ve got a lot of experience on the o-line. It’s not so much just one guy because we’ve been together for so long.”
Wiedenaar’s workmanlike approach comes from growing up on a ranch in Churchill, where his family cultivates potatoes.
“Growing up it was never directly said, but we were taught that if you’re going to do something give 100 percent, otherwise it’s not worth doing,” Weidenaar said. “And that’s so true. It’s not worth it to give a half effort.
“If I’m going to do something I’m going to do it to the end. That’s been instilled on me on the farm, because if you’re not doing your best on the farm and if you’re slacking off in one area it’s going to affect another.
“You need to work hard to make everything click. I think that’s where it comes from, that bust-your-butt mentality.”
Notes and quotes
- MSU will conduct its first scrimmage of fall camp Saturday at 10 a.m. at Bobcat Stadium. Ash said the team will run roughly 70 plays.
“We’ll go about 30 (plays) for the ones, 30 for the twos, maybe 10 or 20 for the threes,” Ash said. “Those are rough numbers. We’ll move the ball up and down the field and get couple kicks. We only have two scrimmages, so we’re going to go pretty good.”
- Of particular note are the lingering leg injuries being nursed by running backs Chad Newell and Gunnar Brekke. The duo has been held out the past few days and neither has met the practice count mandated by the NCAA in order to participate in full-contact drills.
“We want to see whether we can run the ball and stop the run, see if we can make a tackle or break a tackle,” Ash said. “But given what we’ve got going on with the running backs there will probably be more passing in this first scrimmage than usual.”
Veteran backup running backs Nick LaSane and Tavon Dodd, as well as true freshman Logan Jones are expected to get the bulk of the carries during the scrimmage.
Ash said earlier in the week that the Bobcats are simply “being careful” with Newell and Brekke.