The #MTTop40, MTN Sports’ list profiling some of Montana’s best football players, started on July 2 with the defensive backs. We then moved through the defensive line and linebackers before tackling the offense, where we’ve featured the linemen, tight ends, wide receivers and, this week, running backs.
Athletes from various classes have littered the list of Montana’s best, but the state’s smallest level, 6-Man football, deserves its own countdown. After conversations with various 6-Man coaches, past and present, below is a list of some of the greatest athletes to ever suit up on the 6-Man fields.
#MTTop40 6-Man football
One of the most explosive 6-Man football players in Montana’s history, Bahnmiller scored 679 career points, No. 2 all-time per the Montana High School Association record book. His 4,967 career rushing yards sit atop that record book, as do his 88 career rushing touchdowns. Bahnmiller and the Mountaineers won 6-Man championships in 2002, 2004 and 2005.
Mike, Rory and Ryan Clark, Geraldine
The Clark name has given opposing coaches fits over the years when prepping for contests against Geraldine. Mike, Rory and Ryan boast a combined seven all-state selections and can be found all over the Montana High School Association record book, including Michael’s 72 and Rory’s 55 career rushing touchdowns, respectively, while Ryan intercepted 13 career passes, eight in 1995 alone.
Rhett Crites, Blue Sky-KG
Crites was an all-around decorated athlete at Kremlin-Gildford, winning Class C basketball championships in the 1998 and 1999 seasons, as well as a track and field title in 1999, but he also helped the Blue Sky-KG co-op to consecutive 6-Man titles in 1998 and 1999. He became an all-conference punter and kicker at Carroll College, winning a national championship in 2002.
Dave Cross, Hot Springs
Hot Springs became a 6-Man football power earlier this decade, winning its first state championship in 2012, Cross’ senior season. He scored five touchdowns, three rushing, while adding three sacks in a 77-0 shutout against Big Sandy in the 2012 6-Man championship game.
Brian Davison, Highwood
Davison was a multi-sport standout for the Mountaineers, but etched his name in the MHSA record book his sophomore season, completing 78 percent of his passes, a state 6-Man record. He helped Highwood to three consecutive 6-Man championships (2004, 2005, 2006) and owned a 33-game win streak, not losing in his final three seasons.
Luke Diekhans, Geraldine
As one longtime Geraldine resident puts it, “Diekhans is the best 6-Man player to ever hail from Geraldine.” A standout for the Tigers in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, Diekhans completed 67.6 percent of his career passes, No. 2 all-time in 6-Man football according to the Montana High School Association record book. He completed 71.8 percent in 1989 and 69.8 percent in 1990, helping the Tigers to a 23-6 win over Denton in the 1989 state title game.
Braden Feisthamel, Savage
A three-time all-state selection for the Warriors, Feisthamel had a monstrous senior season, rushing 121 times for 1,787 yards and 54 touchdowns. He also added 87 total tackles, 56 solo and continued his career at Montana Tech. In a 2016 NAIA playoff game, he rushed 22 times for 128 yards. He is currently a junior with the Orediggers.
Koly Hertel and Mike Taylor, Moore
Hertel and Moore were a dangerous duo for Moore in the 1980s, leading the Bulldogs to 6-Man state championships in 1984 and 1985, though Hertel added another title in 1986, Moore’s third consecutive. According to the MHSA record book, Taylor threw for 6,228 career yards, No. 3 all-time, including 2,686 in 1983. Hertel was on the receiving end of the majority of those passes, totaling 1,726 career receiving yards. His 23 career interceptions are No. 1 in 6-Man football per the MHSA.
Tanner Hoff, Hot Springs
Few athletes were as dangerous as Hoff during his career with the Savage Heat. His 5,568 offensive yards are among the most all-time in 6-Man football, while his 5,005 passing yards rank fourth. Hoff completed nearly 65 percent of his passes and threw three touchdowns in Hot Springs’ 77-0 win over Big Sandy in the 2012 state championship game.
Matt Icopini, Hysham
Icopini, led by his uncle/coach Dale, helped the Pirates to the first state championship win in school history, defeating Augusta 41-26 in the 2007 6-Man championship. Icopini rushed for 137 yards and scored two touchdowns in the game, according to the Billings Gazette. He was also a first-team all-state selection.
Cole Jelinek, Denton
Many would argue Jelinek, a two-time state champion and three-time state finalist, is perhaps the greatest 6-Man football player in Montana’s history. The standout running back scored 669 career points, twice totaling 48 in a single game, while adding 108 career touchdowns and 5,516 total yards of offense, all according to the MHSA record book. Jelinek rushed for 3,038 career yards and hauled in 2,078 more receiving. He finished his prep career with 398 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in Denton’s 72-30 win over Savage in the 2011 6-Man state championship.
Kam Knudson, Highwood
Knudson never lost a game during his high school career, leading Highwood to four consecutive 6-Man titles (1993-1996). He scored 53 career rushing touchdowns, including 32 in the 1996 season, while averaging 9.5 yards per carry, according to Geraldine-Highwood coach Brandon Gondeiro.
Jake Malek and Wyatt McKinlay, Geraldine-Highwood
Geraldine and Highwood own storied football histories on their own, but since the schools began a co-op seven years ago, Malek and McKinlay have helped the Rivals continue the towns’ tradition. Each a three-time all-state selection, Malek rushed for 4,450 career yards and scored 72 touchdowns, per the MHSA record book. He finished his career with 5,091 total yards. McKinlay played both running back and receiver, scoring 60 total touchdowns – 37 on the ground and 23 receiving, according to Gondeiro. He hauled in 1,238 career receiving yards.
Casey McGowan, Highwood
McGowan led Highwood, then coached by Mike Nelson, to its first state championship in 1992, a 45-0 win over Winifred. According to Gondeiro, McGowan rushed for 504 yards as a senior, more than 10 yards per carry, and 10 touchdowns, with many of the Mountaineers games ending early due to the 45-point mercy rule.
Brady and Cooper Olson, Westby-Grenora
Westby-Grenora athletes have re-written the MHSA record book in recent years, beginning with Brady and Cooper Olson. The latter held the 6-Man record for passing touchdowns in a career, 118, until fellow Thunder quarterback Jeremiah Paine (see below) bested that mark. Olson threw for 6,843 career yards, including two seasons of more than 2,700 yards, while totaling 7,321 yards of total offense. Brady Olson averaged 240 offensive yards per game in his career, with 57 receptions in the 2012 season alone. He also had five interceptions in a 2012 game against Ekalaka, tied for the most in a 6-Man game in Montana history.
Jon Owen, Geraldine
A three-time all-state selection in the late 1990s, Owen was a state champion in 1997 and runner-up in 1998 with the Tigers. His 54 individual points scored in a 1999 game against Heart Butte are No. 5 in a single game according to the MHSA. He finished his prep career with 4,759 total offensive yards, 3,586 on the ground.
Jeremiah Paine, Westby-Grenora
Paine led the Thunder co-op to its first 6-Man championship in 2017, defeating Bridger 68-37. He surpassed Cooper Olson’s record for most passing touchdowns, throwing 153 in his career, including the single-season record of 69 in 2017. He threw eight touchdowns in the championship game against the Scouts. He also threw for 8,057 career yards, while adding 1,510 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.
Trevor Paro, Hot Springs
One of the most electric players in Montana’s history, Paro became the state’s all-time touchdowns leader, scoring 135 in his career with the Savage Heat, including 53 his senior season, when Hot Springs defeated Westby-Grenora 54-20 in the 6-Man championship game. Paro scored five touchdowns and totaled more than 400 yards in the title game. His 823 career points are No. 1 per the MHSA.
Jeffers Pasha, Highwood
Another of Highwood’s fine quarterbacks, Pasha threw for 4,380 yards in his career, including a 428-yard performance in a 1998 contest against Brady. His 41 completed passes in that game rank No. 1 for a single-game performance, per the MHSA, while his 67 touchdown passes rank fifth. He also intercepted 21 passes, second-most in a 6-Man career.
Tyler Stookey, Custer
Custer owns a rich football tradition and Stookey certainly helped continue that. A three-time all-state selection, the quarterback is well known for his record-setting performance in the 2003 state championship game against Geraldine. Stookey threw eight touchdowns to put Custer ahead 64-32, but the Tigers roared back for 40 unanswered points to take a 72-64 lead. Stookey tossed his 10th touchdown and added the conversion to send the game to overtime, where Geraldine won 80-78. Stookey’s 546 passing yards in the game rank second in a single contest, while the 10 passing scores are tied for first in a single game.
Lat Wipplinger, Roberts
An all-state athlete for the Rockets, Wipplinger became one of the top two-way players in 6-Man football during his career. A stellar running back, he consistently tallied double-digit tackles from his linebacker position, leading Roberts to an appearance in the 2006 6-Man championship game, a 48-12 loss to Highwood. The Rockets also fell to the Mountaineers 40-6 in the 2004 title game. Wipplinger became a wide receiver at Carroll College, winning a national championship in 2010 and finishing national runner-up in 2011. He had 37 catches for 423 yards and five touchdowns as a senior.
Dylan Woodhall, Stanford-Geyser
Woodhall found success in multiple sports, but it was football he made the lasting impression. A stellar running back, he put his talents on display in the 6-Man all-star game in the summer of 2012, rushing for more than 200 yards and a score. He scored nine touchdowns in a playoff game against Terry and managed more than 1,000 all-purpose yards in a contest against Roy-Winifred. An alternate for the Montana East-West Shrine Game in 2012, Woodhall played receiver at MSU-Northern and Rocky Mountain College.
Rhett Young, Augusta
One of the best athletes in the Elks’ history, Young scored 529 career points, including a 2009 mark of 290 points, the third-best single-season ever, per the MHSA. He scored 64 points in a game against Savage that season and finished with 90 career touchdowns. After compiling 5,550 yards of total offense, No. 4 in 6-Man history, and 4,800 rushing yards, No. 2 all-time, he continued his career at Montana State.