BOZEMAN — Burke Mastel anticipated landing at the NAIA level once he concluded his high school career.
When he sent his highlights out, the Red Lodge lineman was surprised the Division I schools in Montana offered him to play. At that point, his choice became clear.
Mastel, who was an all-Eastern B first-team offensive lineman and second-team defensive lineman in 2020 as a junior, committed to Montana State on July 4, an in-state recruiting win for new Bobcats coach Brent Vigen. He had received offers from Montana and Montana Tech.
He will be playing offensive line, which is where he feels most comfortable.
“I’ve lived in Montana my whole life,” Mastel said. “It was just kind of a no-brainer that if I had the opportunity to play there I’d like to do it. It’s been a dream for a long time.”
Red Lodge coach John Fitzgerald knows Mastel was excited about the chance to choose either the Bobcats or the Grizzlies.
“Burke’s a great kid,” Fitzgerald said. “Great work in the weight room, good student. He’s really developed as a leader on our team in the last three years and has worked to get where he’s at.”
Mastel’s parents attended MSU, and his high school coaches had connections with the Bobcats’ staff. He felt confident about what he was hearing and believed it could be a beneficial situation.
Mastel figured he was facing “the most competitive recruiting class in a while.”
The Bobcats return several players because of an extra year of eligibility granted in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. And due to COVID-19 restrictions, Mastel didn’t see any of the Bobcats coaches in person until a camp in recent weeks, so he was unsure if he would stand out.
This made him feel even more grateful to have an opportunity to play at MSU.
“The Cats just seemed really interested in me from the start,” Mastel said. “They were just a comfortable choice for me to make.”
The Bobcats first reached out in September near the start of the high school season when previous coach Jeff Choate was still at MSU. Mastel primarily spoke with BJ Robertson, who was the program’s director of high school relations until May.
When Vigen became the Bobcats coach, Mastel also communicated with offensive line coach Brian Armstrong, linebackers coach Bobby Daly and Vigen. Mastel received multiple letters from Vigen, which helped him feel more confident about the coaching transition.
“They just told me they see a bright future in me and thought I can make a really good Bobcat,” Mastel said. “I wanted to be a Bobcat for so long so it just meant a lot to me they were saying all this nice stuff to me.”
Fitzgerald commended Mastel for his agility and strength, products of his dedication to his training since he began playing as a freshman. For his size at 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, Fitzgerald said Mastel has the best footwork he’s seen in the program.
“He bought into the process and worked hard in the offseason,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s following that path that’s taken him to this level. It’s been a good journey for him.”
Mastel also believes he has the intelligence to compete in the Big Sky. However, he wants to increase his aggression when he’s on the field to ready himself for college.
Fitzgerald noted Mastel is considerably larger than most Class B players. He needs to prepare for facing others who match his size and athleticism.
“He just needs to refine his skills and make daily improvements,” Fitzgerald said. “He has the skill set to make it at the next level.”