BILLINGS — Tyler Buckingham’s football career hasn’t gone at exactly the speed he would like, but he continues to end up where he wants.
After months of paperwork delays, Buckingham, a 2018 graduate of Billings West High School, is finally on the football team at the University of Nevada-Reno. Buckingham, a 6-foot, 215-pound linebacker, is walking on to play for the Wolf Pack, who play in the Mountain West Conference.
“He’s always wanted to play college football and he’s always wanted to play at the highest level,” said West coach Rob Stanton. “I haven’t texted or spoken to him recently. We have a coach on staff, Steve Nieto, who had a contact at Nevada, and he let him know about Tyler. They watched film and they obviously liked him. He’s a phenomenal sideline-to-sideline player. He makes a lot of good plays, and he’s a pretty tough hitter, too. When he gets out there, he can run all over the field, so hopefully he’s doing the same thing down there right now.”
Buckingham turned into an outstanding linebacker at West, but his road wasn’t without bumps. He had the talent and athleticism from the get-go, but, according to Stanton, it took Buckingham time to buy in to what the Golden Bears’ coaches were preaching.
Stanton said Buckingham didn’t show the commitment to practice or work in the weight room early in his career. Once he did in his junior and senior seasons, though, Buckingham not only became a great player, he became a leader for the West football team.
“I think he realized that he was going to have to work in order to keep up with some people around the state. That kicked in for him toward the end of his career,” Stanton said. “Just a lot of kids when they come into high school … you’re a dude in eighth grade and ninth grade, and then all of a sudden, if you don’t work, people are going to catch up and pass you. He realized that, and last year he was one of the hardest workers on the team and became, really, a team leader. He’d be a guy that I went to if we had issues or problems, and I would pick his brain before I went to the entire team. I counted on him that way, as well, just the pulse of the team, and he’s a person I would go to.”
After helping West to a 6-4 record in the regular season and a berth in the Class AA playoffs last fall, Buckingham had a sensational all-star tour. He was named the defensive MVP of the Knights of Columbus Badlands Bowl in helping Montana to a 55-7 win over North Dakota. Buckingham then played well for the East Team in its 24-21 win in the Montana East-West Shrine Game in Great Falls.
By the time he played in the summer all-star games, Buckingham already knew his football career would continue at Nevada. He had been in contact with the Wolf Pack coaches since the spring, but he wasn’t cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse until late in the summer. Buckingham missed the start of fall practices, but he was added to the Nevada roster earlier this month.
He’s the first Montana graduate to join the Nevada football program since Bozeman High’s Tanner Roderick went to Reno in 2011. Roderick, who was one of the best high school athletes in recent Montana history, ultimately transferred back to Montana State University after spending two seasons with the Wolf Pack.
“I don’t know if (Buckingham is) on that caliber of athleticism, but that’s ok if you have that work ethic with what you have that will go with it. What you notice about him, is he likes to hit. He’ll get that big hit, and he’ll get noticed right away. Hopefully he’s getting noticed down in Nevada,” Stanton said.