(Editor’s note: MTN Sports began recognizing some of the best football players in Montana history on July 2 with the launch of the #MTTop40. The series started with defensive backs and will run eight weeks, featuring one position each week, concluding with quarterbacks the week of Aug. 20-24 to coincide with Montana’s high school football season opener. This week, we profile the linebackers.)
Linebackers: No. 5 – Pat Taylor, Great Falls CMR.
No. 4 linebacker – Mark Fellows, Choteau
In 1984, the Montana State football program orchestrated an unexpected turnaround to win the national championship. The Bobcats fielded a dominant defense, which included Mark Fellows putting together one of the most impressive single seasons in program history.
Mark Fellows stat sheet
Though he was born at Lodge Grass, Fellows excelled in high school at Choteau. He was a star athlete in track and field, wrestling and football, becoming an all-state performer. On the state wrestling mat, Fellows placed second at 167 pounds as a junior and first at 185 as a senior. On the gridiron, he played for the East Team in the 1981 Montana East-West Shrine Game, earning defensive MVP honors in the East’s 19-7 win.
It was at the college level, though, where Fellows really burst onto the scene. Originally an inside linebacker, Fellows moved to the outside at Montana State. After spending a couple seasons getting acclimated, he became an honorable mention all-American in 1983. The Bobcats went just 1-10 that season to enter the 1984 season with low expectations. Fellows’ career year helped MSU to one of the biggest turnarounds in college football history. The Bobcats went 12-2, making an improbable run through the playoffs to win the FCS national championship. Fellows set two MSU single-season records in ’84, racking up 23 sacks and 30 tackles-for-loss. He also owns Bobcat postseason records for his performance against Louisiana Tech in the championship: 11 solo tackles and six sacks. Fellows was voted the Big Sky Conference defensive MVP and a first-team all-American for his 1984 season. In total, Fellows finished his Montana State career with a program-record 40 sacks to go along with 55 tackles-for-loss and seven forced fumbles, which both rank third in MSU history. He was a two-time all-conference and all-American selection, and MSU inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 1998. Fellows also won the Montana AAU Little Sullivan award in 1985.
Fellows was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the 1985 NFL Draft and played in a handful of games between the 1985 and ’86 seasons. A hip injury during the 1985 season effectively ended his career, and Fellows returned home to Choteau to run the family ranch.
… on Fellows:
Former Montana State assistant coach Dan Davies: “I remember a lot about Mark. He was one of the key cogs, another captain on that national championship team in 1984. Mark was a linebacker, but an outside-type linebacker, rush guy, similar to Dane (Fletcher). He was matched up on an offensive tackle a lot of times, and, boy, I felt sorry for some of those offensive tackles and I felt even more sorry for the quarterback once he got there. He had some hellacious collisions with the quarterback. I remember him wrapping the Boise State quarterback up and throwing him like a ragdoll after he got there. That defense was outstanding. We also had some other defensive linemen that were very good. And I think Mark would say this, too, but Lonnie Burt, the nose guard that year, was a Montana State champion wrestler, and he also wrestled for the Bobcats here, as well. But he had such strength and quickness himself, offensive line or the running backs, the blocking scheme, needed two guys to account for him, so often Mark got single one-on-one opportunities during a pass-rush situation.
“The thing I remember about Mark is how strong he is. I was with him at a barbeque here a couple weeks ago, and he still looks big, strong and dominating. I know he takes real good care of himself. He had strength and quickness, but Mark had more strength than a lot of (linebackers). It enabled him to out-muscle guys but also out-smart them and out-quick them.
“When I was coaching, we went and watched the San Diego Chargers practice in the preseason in July. We used to tour the pro camps in the areas that we could, and we went to several of them. We got the opportunity to go to San Diego and watch him. He had a good run with the Chargers until he had that hip injury that derailed him for quite a while, but I think had he not had that situation happen to him, he would have had a number of years remaining on his NFL career, and he would’ve been successful.”