Since he’s been the coach at Montana State, Jeff Choate has made his run-first philosophy obvious to the rest of the teams in the Big Sky Conference.
That sits just fine with Lewis Kidd, the Bobcats’ preseason all-conference offensive lineman.
“We take a lot of pride in that,” Kidd said during the Big Sky Conference Virtual Kickoff on Friday. “Everyone knows we like to run the ball. As an offensive lineman, that’s just an awesome thing to do. It’s a lot of fun. When you get your running game going, it just kind of opens up the rest of your offense. I think it’s been a vital role in our success.”
In Choate’s four seasons coaching MSU, the Bobcats have ranked no worse than third in the Big Sky Conference in team rushing. They led the league in 2017 and 2019, with 2019 resulting in a banner year. MSU rushed for 3,871 yards and 44 touchdowns in 15 games.
The Bobcats went 11-4 last year, including a 6-2 mark in league play, and advanced to the semifinal round of the FCS Playoffs. Montana State saw its season end at the hands of eventual national champion North Dakota State for the second year in a row last December.
“It was awesome (getting to the playoffs), it was everything to us,” Kidd said. “Obviously ended a little bit earlier than what we would’ve hoped for, but that’s kind of how it goes for anyone that doesn’t win it all. It was a lot of fun, great experience, great to be able to go against different people and different conferences and stuff and kind of around the nation, and it was great to be able to spend those few extra weeks with your teammates and with your brothers and sending out those seniors the right way.”
Now, Kidd is set to be one of those seniors this fall. The 6-foot-6, 312-pound guard from Minneapolis was unanimously voted to the preseason all-Big Sky Conference team, and left guard Taylor Tuiasosopo was also recognized. Those two — along with Zach Redd, Jake Sessions and Connor Wood — provide MSU with a talented and experienced core of returners. Only Mitch Brott, who started a program-record 50 consecutive games during his career, doesn’t return from last year’s offensive line.
As one of the old heads now, Kidd has assumed a larger leadership role and has plenty of advice for incoming freshmen.
“If you come as a freshman and just put your head down and work, keep to yourself, stay out of trouble, do what you’re supposed to be doing, you’re going to earn the respect of all the older guys,” Kidd said. “And that’s going to be the quickest way to earn your time playing.”
Kidd earned his opportunity in 2017 after redshirting his first year in Bozeman. He played in 11 games, starting five, in 2017 and became a full-time starter in 2018, when he started all 13 games and was named a HERO Sports sophomore all-America honorable mention. Last year as a junior, Kidd was a second-team all-conference selection after starting all 15 games.
“Now I’m preparing for my last season, and it’s like, ‘Where did the time go?’ I think you have a tendency, obviously, sometimes to take that time for granted,” Kidd said.
The coronavirus pandemic has given Kidd ample time to reflect on the things he’s taken for granted during his time in Bozeman. The Bobcats had their spring practices canceled, and they only gradually returned to voluntary workouts in June.
Montana State, like most college football teams around the country, has long been scheduled to start fall practices within the next couple of weeks. That’s still the plan, and the Big Sky Conference will make a final determination regarding its fall sports schedules by the end of July. Montana State is scheduled to kick off its season on Sept. 5 against Long Island, but its Sept. 12 game at Utah has been canceled after the Pac-12 Conference announced it wouldn’t play non-conference games this fall.
In the meantime, Kidd and his teammates have made the best of the difficult situation, finding different ways to work out.
“At the beginning, my house, I have a few football players I live with, we kind of accumulated some things — barbells, dumbbells, a bunch of different stuff — and we were able to actually set up an almost legit weight room for a while there,” Kidd said.
He said the players have also had to find unique ways to communicate with each other the past few months.
“Everything’s pretty much virtual — Zoom meetings, FaceTime, whatever it is, Snapchat, texting, calling. We play video games, so talking through that and just kind of still being able to compete against each other and stuff has been fun,” he said.
While he’s enjoying playing Call of Duty with his teammates, Kidd admitted he’s missing some of the things he previously took for granted. He said it’s been difficult being away from teammates and friends, and it makes him feel like he’s “missing out a little bit on the experience” of being a college football player.
Missing the spring practices was surprisingly difficult, too.
“I was never a fan of spring ball,” Kidd said. “As you get older, it’s a lot of young-guy stuff. They’re trying to get a lot of the young guys acclimated and get them a lot of reps. Especially here, it’s super cold, we’re up early, it’s just kind of like, it sucks sometimes, I’m not going to lie, and I think everyone’s gone through that a little bit. But when we missed out on it, at first I was like, ‘OK, that’s not too bad. Be able to get back to it, whatever, we’ll make up for it.’ Now I’m sitting here like, ‘Dang, I really wish I could go out there when it was negative 2 and be out there with my friends and stuff messing around.’ You kind of take little stuff for granted.”