BOZEMAN — Great Falls High made the Class AA football playoffs last fall for the first time in 10 years. Playing no small role was senior quarterback Blake Thelen, a fact that wasn’t lost on Montana State coach Jeff Choate when Thelen signed with the Bobcats on Dec. 19.
“Probably had as much to do with the resurgence of the Bison program as anybody. Really, really good football player,” Choate said of Thelen during a press conference announcing MSU’s first additions of the early signing period.
“He was extremely excited for an opportunity to be a part of this program, and will add depth and value to our quarterback room.”
Thelen threw for 3,005 yards and 28 touchdowns with just six interceptions as a senior while leading the Bison to five victories, their highest win total in more than a decade. He completed 63 percent of his passes and also rushed for 116 yards and eight more scores.
During the recruiting cycle, the 6-foot-3, 185-pound Thelen wasn’t immediately afforded an opportunity to play for the Bobcats and he didn’t make a verbal commitment to MSU until after that offer finally came on Dec. 17, two days before the signing period began.
But it was the only chance he truly wanted.
“That was always my goal. Ever since I was little I just always wanted to be a Montana State Bobcat,” said Thelen, who will join the team in the summer as a preferred walk-on. “I’d been talking to them a little bit at the end of my junior year and into my senior year and thought I had a chance.
“I was kind of holding out for them. When they came knocking on the door I had to take it.”
Thelen agrees with Choate’s assertion that he will initially add depth and value to Montana State’s quarterback crop, which at the moment consists of Troy Andersen, Tucker Rovig, Casey Bauman and Ruben Beltran.
But Thelen has big ideas for his future with the Bobcats.
“Quarterback has always been the position that I want to play,” he said. “It’s always been my position, and ever since I was a little kid I’ve always wanted to throw the ball around the field. Now that I have the chance to do that, especially at Montana State, and joining the elite athletes that they have at that position, I think it’s going to be a good thing.
“But that’s my goal: To get on the field and play quarterback at Montana State.”
In December, Choate conveyed his belief that the Bobcats’ starting QB next season will arise from the trio of Rovig, Bauman and Beltran.
Rovig played some as a redshirt freshman last year before sustaining a season-ending injury. Bauman played briefly and completed the only pass he attempted as a true freshman. Beltran did not play as a true freshman.
Choate’s assertion lends credence to the notion that Andersen won’t play quarterback next season, despite helping MSU win eight games and make the postseason while rushing for more than 1,400 yards and a school-record 21 touchdowns as the primary starter in 2018.
Regardless, Thelen plans to prove his worth with a skill set that seems fit for a college-style QB.
“I think I really scan the field really well,” he said. “I go through my progression, and when the pocket collapses I really take pride in getting out of the pocket and keeping my eyes down the field and making big plays from scrambling around and getting a throw on the run.
“It’s really hard for defensive backs to keep up with the wide receivers if the quarterback can hold the ball for a while. I think I can make plays outside of the pocket pretty well.
“I took a lot of pride in the weight room. My arm strength from junior and senior year really improved, just putting that zip on the ball. I was a little more explosive this year.”
Thelen said he is aware of a tendency MSU has shown in Choate’s tenure to convert high school quarterbacks to other positions on the field.
If that happens — as of now Thelen is slotted at quarterback — he said he’ll do what’s best for the program.
Said Thelen: “Ultimately, yeah. If they say, ‘Hey, we don’t see you at quarterback,’ then I’m willing to do pretty much anything that they need me to do to help win football games.”