UM LB Josh Buss makes a diving grab for MSU RB Nick LaSane. (Photo courtesy: Kelly Morris Photography)

BOZEMAN – Montana State football thrived in the offseason with the Bobcats signing 16 athletes to their 2018 roster.

“Recruiting is all about relationships and I think our staff did a tremendous job of formulating relationships,” said head coach Jeff Choate.

That was the theme of Montana State’s offseason recruiting process, and it helped the Bobcats bring in four big-time transfers.

The first is junior kicker Tristan Bailey. He played at Wyoming and then at Coffeeville Community College. He comes into a kicking unit that was one of the best in the country behind Jered Padmos, but one thing stands out about him.

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“He’s a big physical kid, he does not look like a kicker. I mean, he walks in the door and you’re like, ‘That guy could play linebacker,’ and those are the kind of guys I like at the kicking position, the guys that are truly athletes,” Choate said.

His 6-foot-1, 215-pound frame makes him deadly on special teams. He was an 85-percent touchback kicker and missed only one field goal at Coffeville Community College.

Next, and probably the biggest, is quarterback Travis Jonsen, who played at the University of Oregon before moving to Riverside Community College. He is familiar with Montana State ties. Jonsen competed for the Ducks starting job with former MSU quarterback Dakota Prukop, who eventually beat him out.

Then freshman Justin Herbert, MSU wide receiver Mitch Herbert’s younger brother, took over the starting job. Now, Jonsen is coming in to possibly lead the Cats.

“We see it as an opportunity for a young man like (MSU starting quarterback Chris Murray) to be challenged and pushed, and that’s what we need to be our best as a program. If we get championship quarterback play, look out,” said Choate. “At the end of the day, I think we’re going to be able to put a team out there that is going to be good enough to compete for a championship, if and only if we have championship-level quarterback play.”

Relationships were key in bringing the high-caliber QB to MSU. Running backs coach Michael Pitre was an assistant at Servite High School in California when Jonsen was a freshman there. Now the former Duck is looking to become the face of the Cats.

The next recruit is running back Tyler Natee out of Indiana, who attended a Texas high school that pipelines some of the greatest players to the Bobcats.

“He’s from Euless Trinity High School. We have a lot of really great former Bobcats, one of them in this room in Denarius McGhee, that are graduates of Euless Trinity, Ellu Leota, who is in our program right now,” said Choate.

He was helped to MSU by former assistant coach Noah Joseph, who now coaches the secondary at Indiana. With Nick LaSane now gone, the 6-1, 260-pound Natee will take over the bruiser role.

With the new depth at the position, Choate thinks Natee will help star Troy Andersen play the position he was brought on the team to do.

“I’m hoping it allows us to allow Troy to really sink in and be a full-time defensive player, that we don’t have to split as much time with,” Choate said.

And Natee will become a key assest in an offense that focuses on the run.

“If you look out the window today, I hope we play in some games and somebody’s got to tackle this guy, because they’re not going to enjoy it,” Choate joked about Montana’s winter weather.

The last transfer is defensive lineman Bryce Sterk, and the connection he has with Choate couldn’t be more clear.

“He’s a guy we signed at University of Washington while I was there and brought him in to play defensive end,” said Choate.

He didn’t see much of the field with the Huskies after they signed four- and five-star recruits at this position, but Sterk is extremely talented.

“He was an excellent track athlete. He is a big dude that can run, and he is all of 6-4 and all of 256 pounds,” said Choate.

At Washington Choate knew his intangibles would fit right in with the Bobcats.

“He’s a guy that was in the room I was in, that was who I recruited, I know this young man’s character, I know what he’s all about,” said Choate. “And this guy has everything it takes to be a great player.”