FCS National Championship


Small town, big support: Sunburst is Bobcat crazy ahead of FCS title game

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Posted at 1:07 PM, Jan 06, 2022

SUNBURST — The Montana State football roster is littered with playmakers from all backgrounds and all walks of life. But only one player on the roster, sophomore tight end Treyton Pickering, played 6-Man football in high school.

And his tiny hometown of Sunburst is Bobcat crazy ahead of the FCS title game.

When MTN sports visited recently, the Bobcat fight song randomly broke out at the local mercantile. These days, it’s not that uncommon. It helps to have a rooting interest.

“It’s been 37 years since the last national championship appearance and we have a local kid playing,” said Treyton’s former high school coach Dean Lerum. “The amount of blue and gold on the Hi-Line is incredible.”

Pickering’s blue-collar work ethic led to a historic career in high school. After originally committing to Montana Tech, Pickering jumped at the chance to sign with the Cats when a late offer came in.

“I love telling the guys that I came from a school with 50 kids in it and a class of four,” he said. "And their reactions are just super funny and it's awesome.”

In his hometown, he’s a bit of a local celebrity. Just ask his grandpa Lynn Ahrens.

“He’s the talk of the town along with the Cats,” Ahrens beamed. “Everybody asks how's he doing. You know they're all real proud of him up here. Everybody's happy to see him do good, because he he's a good kid.”

Ahrens knows about gridiron success. After a Hall of Fame career at Eastern Montana College (now MSU Billings), he was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the 12th round of the 1973 NFL Draft. He went on to play professional football for Edmonton in the CFL.

And the folks in Sunburst don’t just support from afar. They show up to games and make themselves known.

“You can always find Treyton down on the field after games and he loves to visit with everybody,” Lerum said. “What I love is if a kid is asking for his autograph, he’s happy to give it. These kids they really see a hero.”

Bryan Ratzburg is a former Montana State offensive lineman and season ticket holder who lives in Sunburst.

“We got a skybox down there, and whenever Treyton makes a play, the whole box erupts and yells ‘Sunburst!’” Ratzburg said.

And it’s made Pickering feel right at home as he improves on the field, each and every week. After redshirting and playing limited minutes as a freshman, Pickering has found a role on the Bobcats this season. In 2021, Pickering has 15 catches for 140 yards and three touchdowns.

His 33-yard catch late in the game against South Dakota State gave the Bobcats a big first down and helped secure a semifinal win. After the game, he took the time to visit with the Sunburst high school football team.

“Fans from throughout the whole community are always coming down, messaging me, seeing if they can catch up after the game. It means the world to me,” he said. “And then for Christmas, I got a big card from Sunburst high school and they wrote like and a bunch of kids signed it. And that was pretty awesome to see the support from them. That was probably one of my cooler Christmas presents I've ever gotten.”

Sunburst will have great representation for the FCS title game against North Dakota State in Frisco, Texas. Pickering estimates there will be 20-30 people making the trip, or roughly 10% of the town.

And he can’t wait to show the world that, with support, a small town kid can make it anywhere.

“I appreciate 'em more than they know. And it doesn't really matter where come from. There's always support, but especially from such small towns, you feel it at a different way,” he said. “I mean, everybody knows your name, everybody cares and loves you and hopes for the best. I love it a lot.”