(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. We’ve wrapped up the defense, also profiling the defensive linemen and linebackers, and started the offense with the offensive linemen, tight ends and wide receivers. This week, we focus on the running backs.)
No. 5 running back – Steve Kracher, Columbia Falls
From helping Columbia Falls to an appearance in the Class A state championship to perfecting the toss sweep at Montana State, Steve Kracher excelled as a multi-dimensional runner in the 1970s.
Steve Kracher stat sheet
As a junior in 1970, Kracher helped Columbia Falls to the program’s first appearance in the Class A state championship as the centerpiece of the Wildcats’ run-heavy offense. The Wildcats wouldn’t play for another title until 2016, winning their first in 2017. Following his graduation from Columbia Falls in 1972, Kracher played in the Montana East-West Shrine Game, helping the West to a 13-8 victory. He’s a member of the Columbia Falls Hall of Fame.
Kracher continued his playing career at Montana State, which was then known as “Tailback U,” as guys like Don Hass and Paul Schafer preceded Kracher in the Bobcats’ backfield. Kracher was as good as any of them, though, winning Big Sky Conference rushing titles in 1974 and 1975, running for 1,034 yards and nine touchdowns in 1974 and 1,387 yards and seven TDs in 1975. He earned all-conference honors both seasons and all-America recognition in 1975. Kracher rushed for 2,979 yards in his MSU career, which still ranks third on the Bobcats’ all-time list, and has two of the program’s top-10 single-game performances, rushing for 222 yards against Northern Arizona in 1975 and 218 against Boise State in 1976. Kracher averaged 6.5 yards per carry during the 1974 season, the second-best single-season average in MSU history, and 6.06 yards per carry over his career, which also ranks second in program history. He was inducted into the MSU Hall of Fame in 1996.
The Minnesota Vikings selected Kracher in the 11th round of the 1976 NFL Draft, but he didn’t see any professional action. Following his playing career, Kracher became a teacher and coach, including a return to his hometown, for 22 years. He’s now the equipment manager at Cal Poly.
… on Kracher:
Former Montana State teammate Dan Davies: “He ran kind of upright from a standpoint, but he was able to cut in a really small, short period of time. But the thing I really remember about Krachs is he would take on a tackle, they would be from the side, and he was able to kind of give them a limp-knee-type thing, and they weren’t able to wrap him up, and he would just drive right through that. I can’t tell you how many tackles he broke, how many yards he got after contact. He was an amazing guy. Very, very intense. There was nobody more ready to play the game when that kickoff happened than Steve Kracher. He was ready to go, he was snorting, snotting, he was ready to go. Great leader, let by example. A quiet guy, but a really, really special, special guy that loved being a Bobcat.
“‘I’ tailback in those days, you probably got, if you were the main guy, it wouldn’t be uncommon to get 40 carries. You’re not breaking many long, but you’re running toss sweep and you’re running trap and you’re getting four, six, eight yards. In those days, there weren’t that many possessions. It might be a 10-play scoring drive or 12-play scoring drive. But now you score, you’re no-huddle and you’re off the field or whatever. Games were quite a bit shorter then when you huddle after every play. But yeah, you run toss sweep into the boundary, that was the Bobcats’ way for many years in those mid ‘70s.
“I think toss sweep would’ve been his play, because you get it and you’re going kind of parallel to the line of scrimmage. With great vision, great instinct and able to plant and change direction in a hurry, which was his specialty and he could see that seam, or use his speed to get to the corner and get around. When you have those two pulling guards coming, you have the fullback trying to know the linebacker down, you have the two pulling guards, or one pulling guard depending on, you just read what the guard does, if he’s going to kick him out, you’ve got to be right on his tail, if he’s going to spin him around, then you’ve just got to get around the end. Great instincts those tailbacks had to have in those days.”
Former Montana State coach Sonny Holland: “Steve Kracher was a great one here for the Bobcats, and I know something about him. He carried the ball for us when I was coaching. He was an outstanding, gifted kid who loved to carry the ball. He did a great job of it.
“I can see him doing just that, taking the ball to the wide side of the field and finding a way to come back against the grain. He never went backwards when he got tackled, he always went forward. He always gained extra yards. He was a great one.
“There’s no question about it, (the vision and instincts needed to run a toss sweep are) a gift that some kids have and some kids don’t have. Steve would make his living doing that. That’s how he was able to do what he did. You have to be able to do that to be in that category and he certainly did.”