Montana has a long and storied football tradition. Not only have great players graced the Treasure State’s gridiron, many have gone on to have impressive careers at the college and professional levels.
But who’s the best Montanan ever to don a pair of football pads? Is it Helena native Pat Donovan, who won a Super Bowl and was a four-time Pro Bowl selection with the Dallas Cowboys? Or is it someone like Dave Dickenson, who won two state championships at Great Falls CMR, a national championship at Montana and two Grey Cups in the Canadian Football League?
It’s a difficult debate, but MTN Sports is tackling the conversation this summer with the #MTTop40. To make it slightly easier, we’ll break it down by position, profiling five players from eight positions throughout July and August, leading up to the high school football season opener on Aug. 24.
We’ll start with the defensive backs, featuring one of the best DBs in Montana’s history each day this week. We’ll move through the defensive line, linebackers, offensive line, tight ends, wide receivers, running backs and quarterbacks throughout the rest of the summer. Along the way, we will, of course, include honorable mention lists for each position and highlight other various players deserving of recognition.
High school, college and professional playing careers will be weighed, as will coaching legacies. To be included in the #MTTop40, athletes must have played high school football in Montana. That’s the only requirement. Thus, players like the legendary Jerry Kramer, who lived in the Jordan area in his youth but never played high school football in Montana, will not be included. Mike Reilly, who was born in Washington but played one season of high school football at Kalispell Flathead, might be included.
It’s an inexact science, so these are by no means definitive rankings – rather, we’re simply reigniting the discussion. Up first: defensive backs.
No. 5 defensive back — Shann Schillinger, Baker
Montana has produced plenty of elite defensive backs, but few, if any, can match Shann Schillinger’s record. The Baker Spartan turned Montana Grizzly compiled a 100-7 combined record during his high school and college careers.
Shann Schillinger stat sheet
Schillinger was part of a dominant football program at Baker High School in the early 2000s, helping the Spartans to three Class B state championships in four years before graduating in 2005. Baker, which was coached by Schillinger’s uncle Don Schillinger, compiled a remarkable 49-1 record during Shann Schillinger’s four-year career. He lettered in football, basketball and track and field all four years of high school and twice earned all-state honors on the gridiron. A two-way starter, Schillinger passed for 1,059 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior and added another 650 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. He played in both the Montana East-West Shrine Game and Knights of Columbus Badlands Bowl before beginning his college career at the University of Montana.
A leg injury delayed Schillinger’s college start, but he appeared in all 14 games in 2006, his second year on campus in Missoula. He broke into the starting lineup in his junior season in 2008 and tied for the team lead in interceptions (four) and forced fumbles (two) on his way to second-team all-Big Sky Conference honors. Schillinger was a first-team all-conference selection after his senior year in which he recorded 90 tackles and four interceptions. The Grizzlies went 51-6 during Schillinger’s four-year playing career, twice advancing to the FCS National Championship Game. Schillinger recorded 257 career tackles and 10 interceptions at UM.
Schillinger was selected in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons and spent four years playing professional football. He appeared in 37 career games, registering 19 total tackles, before entering the coaching ranks. After one-year stints at Dickinson State (N.D.) and the University of Nebraska, Schillinger has coached the safeties at Montana since 2016.
… on Schillinger:
Shann Schillinger: “There’s a lot of great players that have come through this university, a lot of ones I looked up to and learned from – a lot of great players I learned from. … This place has a lot of tradition and history. … My time was remarkable, was fortunate to play for coach (Bobby) Hauck, won a lot of games, a lot of great memories with a lot of my teammates who are now a lot of my great friends.”
Baker coach Dave Breitbach: “Shann was a good player. He had the quickness, he had the skills, those types of things. He was a kid that studied the game. He was one that was at practice with us when he was knee-high to a grasshopper, always on the bench, whether it was when we were coaching basketball or football or whatever it was. He was a gym rat. So he understood the game. Things came fairly easy for him, I guess. He’d recognize things and he would always put himself ahead of the action.
“He was a gym rat. He was somebody who was always around, from handing out gear when he was 4 years old probably to the time he got to play. When it was time for people to go through agilities when he was a young one, he would go through agilities with them. He would even demonstrate as a fourth, fifth grader to my older ones how to get through some of that stuff. He was just always around. As far as studying the game, watching the game, he was one who would go to a game to observe. He wouldn’t be there to just ding around, he would watch and see what was going on. He would go to many games. He and his dad would travel a lot to college games and other games, area games, whether it be to Terry or those types of games. He was at games all the time.”
Former Baker coach Don Schillinger: “Shann was very quick and agile, but Shann was smart. He, of course, was great for scouting teams and so on. He was going to be in the right place at the right time, because he recognized the formations. Coach Breitbach was his defensive back coach at the time and got him lined out. Shann made big plays. I always remember a state championship game when he was a senior – we didn’t use him on specialty teams that much – but run back the opening kickoff against Fort Benton for a touchdown. Shann was special and will always be a highlight of some of our Baker career.”