(Editor's note: Montana State University media release)
BOZEMAN – Two of Montana State’s greatest student-athletes, NFL Hall of Fame kicker Jan Stenerud and two-time national champion pole vaulter Ellie Rudy, became Big Sky Conference immortals Wednesday when the league named them to the inaugural class of the Big Sky Hall of Fame Presented by Jimmy John’s.
Stenerud and Rudy join 12 others to comprise the first group of inductees into the league’s Hall of Fame, and the two Bobcats span nearly the Big Sky’s entire history. Stenerud competed in skiing at Montana State during the league’s inception, while Rudy’s career is the second-most recent among all inductees. The inaugural class will be inducted on Saturday, March 14 in Boise, Idaho, during the league’s Basketball Championships.
“This is a tremendous honor for two Bobcat legends,” said MSU Director of Athletics Leon Costello. “To be recognized among the greatest athletes this conference has ever produced is tremendous, and in both cases perfectly fitting. We’re very proud of Ellie and Jan, and offer them our most sincere congratulations.”
Stenerud came to Montana State from Norway as a ski jumper, earning All-America honors in 1963 by finishing fourth at the NCAA Championships. He matched that in 1964, and in both seasons won the Big Sky Championship in that event during an era when skiing was sanctioned in the league. In the fall of 1964, during a break from running stadium steps at Gatton Field, Stenerud kicked footballs while the Bobcat grid team worked out on the practice fields just to the south.
While men’s basketball coach Roger Craft strided by on his way to the Fieldhouse from Romney Gym, Stenerud’s leg strength caught his eye. Craft alerted head football coach Jim Sweeney, who eventually gave Stenerud a tryout and then brought him onto the squad mid-season as a redshirt. In 1965 he immediately became a sensation, and was the league’s top kicker statistically for his two seasons on the Bobcat football team. He set the NCAA record for kick scoring (82 points) and the Big Sky extra points record (49) in 1966, and that season his 59-yard field goal against the Grizzlies in Bozeman was hailed as a world record.
In an era when specialists were not typically included in post-season awards, The Sporting News named Stenerud the top kicker in all of college football after the 1966 campaign. A few months later he was drafted by the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, and began a legendary career with the Chiefs that landed him as the first pure kicker inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His jersey has been retired by his alma mater and the Kansas City Chiefs, he was named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team, and at the time of his retirement he held the NFL record for field goals made and career points.
While he was not the NFL’s first soccer-style kicker, he is widely recognized as legitimizing that technique. Stenerud earned All-America honors in two unrelated sports while at Montana State, the only person inducted as an athlete with that distinction.
A Woodland Park, Colorado, product, Rudy’s impact at Montana State was immediate and lasting. After redshirting during the 2005 indoor season she won the Big Sky outdoor pole vault championship that spring as a freshman, and never lost a league-sponsored championship in her career. She remains the only four-time Big Sky Champion in both the women’s indoor and women’s outdoor pole vault. She landed All-America honors for the first time in the summer of 2006, finishing sixth at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. The next spring, Rudy won her first NCAA Championship in dramatic fashion, claiming the crown in jump-offs. A year later she repeated, and in between grabbed All-America honors by finishing fourth at the 2007 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Her performance at the 2007 NCAA Indoor Championships resulted in a Big Sky record jump of 14-1.25, and she is currently second on the Big Sky indoor pole vault list. She holds the Big Sky outdoor record at 14-2.5, and was named Big Sky Field Event Athlete of the Meet twice. She was a Big Sky Athlete of the Week 21 times, and a 2008 Big Sky Scholar-Athlete after claiming Big Sky All-Academic honors seven times between indoor and outdoor competition.
2020 Big Sky Hall of Fame Class (Alphabetical Order)
Jared Allen – Idaho State, Football, 1993-96
Shannon (Cate) Schweyen – Montana, Women’s Basketball, 1988-92
Angela Chalmers – Northern Arizona, Women’s Track & Field, 1982-87
Dave Dickenson – Montana, Football, 1992-95
Stacy Dragila – Idaho State, Women’s Track & Field, 1993-96
Jack Friel – Big Sky Conference, Commissioner, 1963-71
John Friesz – Idaho, Football, 1986-89
Milton “Dubby” Holt – Idaho State, Track & Field/Administrator, 1963-79
Damian Lillard – Weber State, Men’s Basketball, 2008-12
Lopez Lomong – Northern Arizona, Men’s Cross Country/Track & Field, 2005-07
Ron Mann – Northern Arizona, Cross Country/Track & Field Coach, 1980-04
Ellie Rudy – Montana State, Women’s Track & Field, 2004-08
Robin Selvig – Montana, Women’s Basketball, 1978-2016
Jan Stenerud – Montana State, Football, 1964-66/Skiing, 1962-64