BOZEMAN — It wasn’t long ago that some of Montana State’s biggest household names suited up for game days in Bobcat Stadium, but despite hanging up their cleats, you can still find some of them on the sidelines locally at Bozeman's Gallatin High School.
From being part of a state championship coaching staff at Bozeman High to building a new program at Gallatin, it was important for first-year head coach Hunter Chandler to add experience to his staff, which came in the form of collegiate experience from the former Bobcats.
"Hunter was interviewing for the head coaching position, and I would kind of BS with him about how if I was calling plays this is what I’d be doing," said JP Flynn. "I’d be whipping it here and doing this and this. The more and more we talked, he finally called me and was like, 'I’d love it if you came and coached.'"
Flynn was an All-American offensive lineman in his final year with the Bobcats in 2016. Upon signing with the San Francisco 49ers, he packed his bags and headed to the West Coast ready for the next challenge, but injuries would be the biggest challenge yet.
"It was a tough thing to accept," said Flynn. "I needed someone to tell me you’re not going to be able to play anymore post-injury. I finally had a doctor in town pretty much tell me that it was over, so we moved on with life."
While it was tough to move on, he never thought he’d be calling his own plays as Gallatin’s offensive coordinator. But for former Bobcat defensive lineman Tucker Yates, it was always in his bloodline to trade in his helmet for a headset.
“I think I always wanted to be a coach," said Yates. "Every summer I’d go home and run a camp for my dad and take a bunch of the MSU guys with me, and we’d put on a full camp for my dad’s high school team."
Yates helped the Bobcats climb above .500 in 2018, becoming one of the top defensive linemen in the Big Sky Conference during his time at MSU. He’s now Gallatin’s defensive line coach.
Flynn and Yates played together for two seasons, often competing in the trenches at practices. Their relationship as friends started well before Yates made his decision to be a Bobcat. Flynn was the player host when Yates made his official recruiting visit to Montana State.
“He was kind of a big-time name at the time, so I thought that was pretty cool hanging out with him. He had the flow. He had the long hair at the time," said Yates.
One Bobcat you wouldn't see on the field during a Gallatin game is Chase Benson. He watches the game from a bird’s-eye view up in the coach's box, talking to Yates through a headset.
His coaching situation is a lot different from Flynn's and Yates' since he's still playing for Montana State, but Benson said he had a lot of extra time on his hands because of the delayed season.
“I had to find something to do," he said. "Luckily, my one class this semester was a coaching practicum, and I knew Tuck was coaching here, so I gave him a message and he said I’d love to have you.”
Players at Gallatin High are getting first-hand knowledge on what it takes to get to the next level, but the X’s and O’s of the game aren’t the only things they’re teaching.
“We have our core values," said Yates. "We talk about family, character, toughness. We just try to harp on those things every single day.”
“One thing that I really harp on is education," Flynn added. "At the end of the day there’s one thing no one can take away from you, and that’s knowledge. Knowledge is the one thing you have with you until the day you die."
Any of them will tell you some of life’s biggest lessons are ones taught on a football field.
“There’s no better sport for a kid," said Flynn. "There’s no better sport for a coach. I’m happy that I can pass along what I’ve learned from some greats and from when I was playing in fourth grade all through my football career.”
You can take the player out of the game, but you can never take the game out of the player.