BOZEMAN — Steve Kracher remembers the days when Montana State was referred to as a “cow college.” It was much smaller then, years from shattering internal enrollment records and becoming the research and engineering powerhouse it is today.
MSU had a pretty good football team in that era, and Kracher was a huge part of it. The running back from Columbia Falls rushed for 2,979 yards from 1972-75, which was a school record that stood for nearly 30 years.
In 1996, Kracher was inducted into the Montana State athletic hall of fame.
Kracher is now a defensive analyst on the coaching staff at Cal Poly, and his job this week has been to scout the No. 6-ranked Bobcats in preparation for the Mustangs’ key Big Sky Conference contest Saturday at home against MSU.
By the time the ball is kicked off at 6 p.m. Mountain time, some memories may come flooding back.
“It always does. You look across the field and you see uniforms that were part of your life,” Kracher said. “You’re going, ‘Oh man, there it is. MSU.’ You remember all the games and all the years.”
Kracher, 65, played in a time when the Bobcats mercilessly ran the football under coach Sonny Holland, piling up more than 11,000 yards on the ground in a four-year span. Kracher averaged 6.1 yards per carry for his career, which still ranks No. 2 all-time at MSU.
All these years later and it’s not that much different. The Bobcats’ offense is again built around a strong, downhill running game.
“I’ve watched all five of their games offensively. Very impressed with the way they’re running the ball and how they’re doing it,” Kracher told 406mtsports.com in a phone interview. “They give you a tremendously diverse array of formations.
“They do a lot but they’re simple in their approach running the ball. Very impressed with their offensive line, of course. Our O-line back when I played, we had guys that were 210, 225. I think 240 was the biggest kid on the team back then. They were considered giants. It was a much different time.”
The Bobcats won the Big Sky Conference championship in Kracher’s freshman season of 1972, then finished second to Boise State in each of the next three years. After leaving MSU Kracher went on to coach football in some capacity or for two decades, including 21 years at the high school level.
Kracher also simultaneously served as the equipment manager at Cal Poly for 10 years.
In his new role as a defensive analyst, Kracher says it’s a seven-days-a-week, 12-hours-a-day grind. But he doesn't mind. Veteran Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh says Kracher’s input to his team is irreplaceable.
“He’s just such a gym rat about this game it’s unbelievable, both the way he probably played it 40 years ago but also the way he’s coached it,” Walsh said. “He brings a wealth of knowledge. His studying of the game, you can match it but I don’t know if you can beat it.
“It’s just fun to be around a guy that loves the game as much as he does. He’s not in it for any other reason but for the love of the game. And from what I understand, that’s the way he played the game, too.
“So it doesn’t surprise me that he’s as good a coach as he’s become because his knowledge and the studying he’s done of the game has really made him of great value to us.”
The Bobcats come into Saturday’s game averaging 275 rushing yards per contest, which ranks No. 1 in the Big Sky Conference and sixth in the FCS. And they’ve used a variety of runners to do it — receiver/wildcat QB Travis Jonsen and running backs Logan Jones, Lane Sumner and Shane Perry have carried the load the past few weeks.
It's a familiar blueprint to Kracher. During his sophomore season in 1973, the Bobcats averaged 304.5 yards per game on the ground, which still ranks No. 2 all-time in the school record book.
Wayne Edwards, who Kracher would replace as MSU’s featured back the following season, had five 100-yard games that year. Quarterback Mike Holder had 144 yards in a win against Montana, which was part of a run of six consecutive victories over the Grizzlies.
Kracher followed up his sophomore year with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 1974 and 1975.
“I was really proud to play during the time period when football was kind of traditional,” Kracher said. “Not that MSU doesn’t run the ball now, but we were a running team, solid defense and very traditional. Being part of that was great.
“A lot of Montana kids were on the team. I think eight starters on our offense were from Montana and close to the same on defense. We had coaches from Montana that really recruited the area, coach Holland, coach (Sonny) Lubick, coach (Cliff) Hysell, coach (Don) Christensen, all of them.”
Kracher remains a dignified former Bobcat — though he’s working this week to help Cal Poly devise a game plan to contain MSU’s stout ground attack and put an end to its four-game winning streak.
Whatever happens, Kracher’s blue and gold spirit won’t be tainted.
“I think they’ve built their program up to a very high level in the Big Sky,” he said. “They’ve done things right in my opinion. Their students and fans and boosters are totally involved in their program. I think they’re on the right track.
“With their new expansion (plans) that I’ve seen, they’re going to be one of the top programs in all of FCS, if they aren’t already. I don’t get to see them very much. In a few years I plan to permanently retire up in Montana and then be able to go to a few more games. I look forward to that.”