BILLINGS — The message Columbus High School coaches gave to Cougar players before their season opener in Red Lodge on Sept. 4 was simple.
“We were told to score more points than them, because it was going to be an offensive battle," said junior Caden Meier.
Apparently Meier is a good listener. The quarterback led his team to 56 points in the first half, eventually winning 62-40 in a performance no one saw coming.
“We had high expectations because there’s athletic kids in this class and they work hard in the offseason, but we lost 13 seniors and only had three returning starters," said Columbus head coach Blake Hoge.
Luckily for Hoge, one of them was Meier. He threw for 243 yards and five touchdowns but, maybe most impressively, converted all seven two-point conversion attempts in the first half - most of them through the air. Not bad for a guy who came into high school as a wide receiver, only to see everything change in one play.
“It was my right leg, and I was a receiver for JV team my freshman year, and it was my first catch of the game - I went and broke it," Meier said. "It kind of messed with me in basketball. It might have slowed me down a little bit.”
So last year, without his burst, coaches turned him into a quarterback in a heavy passing offense. And he’s thrived, though that was no surprise to them.
“He’s a leader," Hoge said. "We vote on our captains -- they’re all kid-chosen -- and he as a junior earned a captain spot, so that kind of speaks to the kind of kid he is. And plus he’s just athletic. He would be a good receiver. Wherever we put him, he’ll play as hard as he can go.”
Meier has some thoughts on that for next season.
“I like catching the ball a lot, and I kind of mentioned to my coaches -- my brother is a freshman and he’s a quarterback, so I mentioned maybe I could be a receiver next year and maybe he could come in and be quarterback," Meier said.
Two Meiers would make a heck of a tandem. Luckily for Columbus, they have four - Caden and Mason, plus cousins Garrett and Wyatt. Garrett had two interceptions and a fumble recovery against the Rams. Yes, it’s in the blood.
“They get it, the parents get it, they know what it takes to be successful in the offseason and how to support their kids, their coaches, and get it going in the right direction," Hoge said of the Meier family. "It’s pretty rare you have athleticism plus the attitude, and when you see a Meier on their last name, you know it’s coming.”
The family doesn’t stop on the Stillwater. Their uncle is former Montana Grizzly player, and current Red Lodge head coach, John Fitzgerald.
“My cousin R.J. Fitzgerald plays for (Montana State) right now," Meier said of his extended relatives. "Jace is at Dillon, the quarterback. It kind of runs in the blood. If you don’t play football, it’s kind of frowned upon.”