Red Lodge won’t be playing in the Class B quarterfinals this weekend after a 7-0 loss to Jefferson in the opening round. But that wasn’t the end of the career for offensive lineman Burke Mastel, who’s moving on to Bozeman next fall.
“I’ve been a Bobcat fan my whole life, ever since I picked up a football. I knew if I ever had the opportunity to play at Bozeman I’d take it," said Mastel.
He’ll be joining an old teammate on MSU's roster in Elijah Reynolds. Between Reynolds and current Montana Grizzly Corby Mann, Mastel had his work cut out for him in practice his first three years of high school.
“They were always competitive. We always like to have a little fun in practice and get after each other, so those two that are at the Big Sky Conference right now, they were great leaders for these guys," Fitzgerald said. "(Mastel) and Malcom Mann is another one that’s come on.”
“Well I think they were definitely a good test for me in practice. I wish them the best at their respective schools that they chose, but they definitely helped me to where I’m at right now. Big thanks to them," Mastel said.
That marks two consecutive years that Fitzgerald has sent a player to the FCS level with Mastel joining Reynolds and Mann. Fitzgerald was a tight end for the Griz in his playing days and his allegiance still lies there, but the rivalry is pushed aside when it comes to his players.
“I have two nephews there, too. I’m very proud of them for everything they’ve accomplished. These guys, I’ll do anything for them, whether they want to go to MSU, Rocky or U of M, I’ll do anything to help these guys out," said Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald also has knowledge of the hand-to-hand combat that goes on in the trenches and what kind of challenge that will bring to Mastel at the next level, along with the step up in physicality.
“The biggest thing is that at that level everybody is equal. When you’re a big kid in high school, everybody is big in college. And they’re fast in college, and they’re smart and they’re passionate," Fitzgerald said. "I said, ‘That right there is what separates the good players from the great players at the college level, is how passionate they are and how hard they work in practice. And in games, obviously.'”
“He’s got a lot of experience and he played for a great program. He’s helped me a lot, for sure," Mastel said.
Not many guys better to learn from than Fitzgerald.