(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.)
No. 2 linebacker – Jim Kalafat, Great Falls CMR
Jack Johnson coached a lot of terrific athletes at Great Falls CMR, but Jim Kalafat was one of his favorites. After playing on both sides of the ball for the Rustlers and starting out on offense at Montana State, Kalafat switched to the defensive side of the ball, where he become a star.
Jim Kalafat stat sheet
Jack Johnson had a number of terrific linebackers at Great Falls CMR, but Kalafat might have ultimately been the most productive. Kalafat starred on both sides of the ball for the Rustlers, playing tailback and linebacker on teams that twice finished runner-up. He was an all-state running back in 1979.
Originally recruited to play in the offensive backfield at Montana State, Kalafat moved to linebacker, where he enjoyed a record-setting career. He holds the Bobcats’ top two single-season tackles marks, registering 202 stops in 1982 and 178 in 1983, earning first-team all-Big Sky Conference recognition both seasons. Kalafat also has MSU’s single-game record of 30 tackles (against Nevada in 1983), as well as games of 29, 28 and 26 tackles, and ranks fifth in program history in career tackles (380).
After finishing his career at Montana State, Kalafat pursued professional football opportunities, spending time in the USFL, CLF and NFL. While playing with the Los Angeles Rams in 1987, Kalafat suffered a career-ending injury.
Once his football career was over, Kalafat changed his name to Jim Starr and became “Laser” on the television series American Gladiators, where he competed from 1989-1996.
… on Kalafat:
Former Great Falls CMR coach Jack Johnson: “Jimmy Kalafat, yeah, he’s a great kid. He’s one of my favorites. He played running back for us, he was our tailback. Then he got to Bozeman and he was the fullback there in the I-formation, but they had two fullbacks, so they moved him to linebacker and he became an all-American linebacker. He was just a great football player. He could run, was strong and tough, smart, loved to play football, loved the game. Then he got on TV – well, I think he played with a couple pro teams. I think he was with the Chiefs, then played in Canada, maybe Toronto or something, but then he got to be on the (American) Gladiators and that was fun to watch him there.
“I think he would just do whatever the team needed him to do that would help them be the best. That was the attitude he had. He just wanted to play, and I don’t think he cared where it was.”
Former Montana State assistant coach Dan Davies: “Jim Kalafat was a guy that had a defensive mentality. You talk about a tough kid, and he was a smart kid, too, on defense. Interestingly enough, he played his first couple years as a running back for Montana State, and then we had some voids on the defensive side and moved him to defense and never looked back. He was as tough as they come, smart and a great nose for the football. From my standpoint, I wouldn’t want to be tackled by him, I know that. He made a ton of tackles, all over the field, great player.
“His strength was just his nose for the football and getting there, getting off blocks. He was so strong. You’re taking on offensive linemen, guys that are 280, 300 pounds. You got to get off them as quick as you can. He wasn’t huge in stature in terms of height and so forth. He had great leverage and was able to handle and shed blocks and get to the football.
“He went on to have a phenomenal career on American Gladiators. He’s still a star in that deal. He’s still one of the icons from way back when. I used to watch that all the time. … It drew you right in. They have those rivals within the organization – good-guy, bad-guy stuff. He demonstrated a tremendous amount of strength in some of those skills they had to do and the battles that they were in. It was a lot of fun to watch.”