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Montana State offensive line coach Al Johnson 'well aware' of Cat-Griz rivalry thanks to NFL connection

Al Johnson
Posted at 5:47 PM, Feb 03, 2023

BOZEMAN — It’s been one week since Montana State announced the hire of new offensive line coach Al Johnson, and on Thursday he made his first media appearance.

Johnson comes to MSU from the University of Wisconsin, where he coached running backs last fall and was a center for the Badgers for three seasons from 2000 to 2002. He was selected in the second round of the 2003 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys. He spent seven seasons in the league before embarking on his coaching career in 2013.

Ironically, Johnson and his family took a trip to Bozeman during the offseason last year that included a drive-by of Bobcat Stadium, but he of course had no idea at the time he'd be coaching for the program several months later.

“It’s one of those surreal things because you didn’t really think or plan that I would be in this situation, and then going by and just thinking I see why people come here and how beautiful it is and surrounded by the mountains and knowing the great tradition,” Johnson explained.

Johnson shared that his relationship with Wyoming offensive coordinator Tim Polasek was how he got connected with Montana State. Polasek and Brent Vigen both coached at North Dakota State together.

Johnson said that he wanted to get back to coaching offensive line and already had a good idea of what Montana State was all about thanks to a former teammate during his professional playing days.

"I played for Dallas, and in my second year, we signed an unrestricted free agent O-lineman from that team we don't talk about — I've learned we don't mention their name — Cory Procter," Johnson recalled. "Cory was the first one to really start telling me about the [Cat-Griz] rivalry game and what it means to the state and to the people and how literally divided it is. I've watched the games and watched the playoffs and been able to see that and just to see the passion and the fans and the players and the team and this area.”

Procter played college football at Montana, and Johnson shared that the two have not connected yet since accepting the job, joking it might be because he's wearing the Blue and Gold now.

As far as preparing for spring ball, Johnson says he’s just working on getting to know who his offensive line is, and a big part of that is rewatching last year’s game film.

Spring ball is expected to start at the end of March after Montana State's spring break.