(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.)
Defensive backs: No. 5 – Shann Schillinger, Baker; No. 4 – Greg Carothers, Helena Capital; No. 3 – Kane Ioane, Billings Skyview; No. 2 – Colt Anderson, Butte; No. 1 – Tim Hauck, Big Timber.
Defensive linemen: No. 5 – Kroy Biermann, Hardin; No. 4 – Pete Lazetich, Billings Senior; No. 3 – Mitch Donahue, Billings West; No. 2 – Dwan Edwards, Columbus; No. 1 – Mike Tilleman, Chinook.
Linebackers: No. 5 – Pat Taylor, Great Falls CMR; No. 4 – Mark Fellows, Choteau; No. 3 – Jason Crebo, Helena Capital; No. 2 – Jim Kalafat, Great Falls CMR.
No. 1 linebacker – Corey Widmer, Bozeman
Few Montanans can boast eight-year NFL careers and even fewer can do so when playing a new position. Corey Widmer successfully transitioned from defensive line to become a consistent starting linebacker for the NFL’s New York Giants.
Corey Widmer stat sheet
A 1987 Bozeman High graduate, Widmer became a more dominant player at Montana State, where he starred on the defensive line until 1991. He became a three-time all-conference selection and two-time all-American, earning Big Sky Conference defensive MVP honors in 1990. Widmer recorded 66 tackles-for-loss during his career, setting the MSU all-time record. His 25 tackles-for-loss during the 1990 season are the second-most by a Bobcat in a single season, and his 20 in 1991 rank sixth. Widmer also tallied 35 career sacks (fourth all-time at MSU) and six forced fumbles (eighth).
The New York Giants selected Widmer in the seventh round of the 1992 NFL Draft, and he spent eight years playing middle linebacker. Widmer became a full-time starter for the Giants in 1996 and had a career year: 68 tackles, 35 assisted tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions. He followed that up with a similarly solid season, which the Giants reportedly rewarded with a four-year, $12 million contract. Widmer would play two more seasons as the Giants’ starter before he was waived after the 1999 season. In total, Widmer appeared in 114 NFL games, starting 64, and totaled 271 tackles to go along with 113 more assisted tackles. He had 7.5 career sacks and four interceptions.
Widmer was inducted into the Montana State Hall of Fame in 2002, but he recently declined an invite to the Montana Football Hall of Fame, indicating he believed he had CTE, which can’t be diagnosed in the living. “I’d never want to give somebody the impression that football is safe and that the injuries are short term. They’re not. I’m proof of that,” Widmer told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
… on Widmer:
Montana State radio color commentator Dan Davies: “(Widmer) was a defensive tackle, inside guy (at Montana State). Very intelligent. He’s still obviously an intelligent young man. He had a lot of athleticism for a guy his size. I remember watching him in high school, because he and Shane Collins played together for the Bozeman Hawks. They didn’t have a very good season when they played together. It’s an interesting situation there. But both of them went on to have great college careers. Of course, Shane won the Pac-10 shot put, as well, for Arizona State. Corey, I think he was two-time defensive MVP of the league for the Big Sky. I know once for sure, maybe twice. He was a dominating guy, too. He was a tough guy to block and created all kinds of havoc across the line. Very intelligent player and studied film, and I think he questioned coaches about doing this and doing that. Was really into being a good football player. And you have to go beyond just getting coached to be a good football player.
“When he went to the NFL, he got on his feet. He played more on his feet and not in a three-point stance. Very successful career there. I just think he had good instincts and he had good quickness for a guy his size. But he wasn’t that big. You see some of those defensive tackles and stuff today and defensive linemen, and their hind ends are about this wide (motions exaggerated width). Corey was always a slim-type guy, but he was pretty thick, too.
“It was a little bit of a surprise for me. I mean, I knew he was a good football player, and he proved it week in and week out in the Big Sky. But for him to get to a position where he was playing inside as a linebacker in a standup position, to move around like that, he really developed after he left here even.”