MISSOULA — Hockinson High School football coach Rick Steele adamantly believes Peyton Brammer would’ve been heading to the FBS level, not the Montana Grizzlies of the FCS, if he hadn’t suffered a knee injury during his senior season of football in Washington.
“He is a most definite steal for Montana,” Steele said. “I think he is a Pac-12 football player. Not only is he a Pac-12 football player, but the Cal people have had some tight ends who’ve come in looking like him and gone on to do great things. Based on our conversations, I think they thought he had that type of potential. I think Montana should be really excited to get him.”
Injuries have been an unfortunate story for Brammer, a 3-star tight end who signed with the Griz earlier this month and could be a high-risk, high-reward type of player in the years ahead.
On one hand, the 6-foot-3, 205-pounder flashed his potential early on, starting to garner interest from FBS teams when he was just a sophomore. On the other, he had his junior and senior seasons cut short by injuries, the latter being a knee injury in which he tore his PCL, MCL and meniscus.
When his senior season ended prematurely, most of his FBS interest dried up, although he was still ranked as the No. 42 recruit in the state by 247Sports. Air Force still offered a scholarship, and Utah and Boise State wanted Brammer as a preferred walk-on.
One team that never lost interest was Montana. They were one of several FCS teams to offer him along with Portland State, Jacksonville State, Northern Colorado, Idaho State, Georgetown, Columbia and Lehigh.
The Griz kept their full-ride scholarship offer despite the latter injury. That commitment made Brammer's decision even easier after he got to visit Missoula, meet the coaches and players, and see how the academics fit with his future plans.
“Montana was in the mix the whole time,” said Brammer, who was called “a special pickup” and “signature commit” for the Griz by a national FCS writer.
“They’ve been there since my sophomore year talking to me, so I appreciated that. At the end of the day, getting your school paid for is one of the biggest things.”
Steele recalls seeing Brammer and thinking he was a basketball player who happened to play football his freshman year at Hockinson, on the Washington side of the border with Oregon near Portland. Then Brammer’s gridiron stock took off his sophomore season at the 2A school, the third-largest enrollment level in Washington.
Brammer played wide receiver alongside Washington Huskies signee Sawyer Racanelli, who was also a sophomore wideout that year. When teams tried to take away Racanelli, Brammer began to take advantage of one-on-one coverage opportunities.
“I think that’s when he emerged as a player,” Steele said. “He caught people’s attention because they were watching Racanelli but were then saying, ‘Who’s this other kid?’ Then, after the season, we went to a 7-on-7 tournament at Washington, won the thing against bigger schools, and I had three or four Huskies coaches ask me who Peyton is. That’s when his recruitment took off.”
Brammer excelled throughout his junior season. However, a foot fracture ended his season, leaving him with 58 catches for 1,018 yards and 20 touchdowns. Interest from the FBS level still remained.
He suffered that injury while playing cornerback — a position where he was an all-state selection — in the semifinals, covering the nation’s No. 1 wide receiver recruit in the class of 2021, Steilacoom High School’s Emeka Egbuka.
“This kid’s got offers from Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Ohio State and Notre Dame, and Peyton is covering him one-on-one for the first three quarters and shut him down,” Steele said. “He broke his foot early in the fourth quarter, and we didn’t have anybody that could cover that kid and he went off. But that’s the kind of player Peyton is. He’s not just a wide receiver. He can play football. I think that’s why people were interested in him. He’s a big, fast, athletic kid.”
Brammer returned months later for his junior basketball season, scoring 29, 40 and 50 points in his first three games back, the last of those three being the school record. He already had a basketball scholarship offer from Div. II Chaminade in Hawaii and thought he could get more, but the football injuries limited his time on the court.
Those basketball skills paid dividends on the football field, where he used his height to be able to go up and snag passes out of the air over defenders. He’ll bring that to Montana while continuing to try to add to his game as he transitions from wide receiver to tight end.
“I feel I can bring athleticism,” Brammer said. “If I have a linebacker covering me or a smaller corner, I think my size is going to help for sure. I think the biggest plus I have in my game is going up and getting the football. It’s my athleticism and route running and catching. I’ve got to work on my blocking skills, but me and (tight ends coach) Jace (Schillinger) talked about that. I’m going to train for that.”
Brammer was working on putting together a strong senior football season before the knee injury Oct. 25, two days after the Griz offered him. The interest from big-time schools dried up as they didn’t get to see as much of him as they wanted, he surmised, although he wasn’t sure if they’d offer anyway.
While Steele initially thought of Brammer as a basketball player, he’s had a front row seat to see his two-time captain show his football potential despite the injuries. Brammer ended his senior season with with 33 catches for 703 yards and 11 touchdowns in eight games.
“Peyton is still a developing football player, especially in the realm of being physical,” Steele said. “His junior year, he started coming around to being physical. The kid is an athlete, but I think he’s got a ways to go just growing and filling out. He has that potential in him. He’s 6-4 and 212 pounds and hasn’t spent a lot of time in the weight room but is already a big, athletic kid.”
‘Felt like home’
Brammer will be grayshirting in the 2020 season while recovering from his knee injury. He’s currently three months post-surgery and expects to be on campus in January 2021.
“I’m feeling good,” Brammer said. “I’ll be focusing on strengthening (my knee).”
He was primarily recruited by head coach Bobby Hauck, defensive line coach Barry Sacks and tight ends coach Jace Schillinger. Hauck and Sacks made a home visit about two weeks before signing day, Brammer said, which ended up being important as Portland State was making its push and presented the draw of Brammer getting to stay close to home.
“We talked about the questions my family had, and I made the decision right then,” Brammer said. “It’s hard leaving home for college, and that’s tough because I’m close to my family. I liked the coaching staff there and the schooling side. I fell in love with it.”
Brammer plans to study business, and Montana’s business program was a key selling point for him.
“One of the biggest things is the business side,” said Brammer, who has a 3.7 grade-point average. “We’re all academics first in my family. I was impressed with their business school and what they offered. Going on the official visit, I also got to see the player-to-player relationships and loved the coaching staff. They got NFL experience, so that’s a big plus.”
A self-described “country kid,” Brammer enjoyed his visit to Missoula Jan. 17-19. He already knew a handful of current Griz players from back home — Cole Grossman, Skyler Martin and Tyler Ganoung — and enjoyed his visit with his host, tight end Bryson Deming.
“I heard great things about the town — great hunting, great fishing — and the coaching staff showed me around town, and I fell in love with it,” Brammer said. “It felt like home for sure. I was impressed with how everybody is so connected in the town and football is the biggest thing there.”
Once spurned by the bigger schools, Brammer will try to hit the big time with Montana. Hauck thinks he could have the potential, independently agreeing with Steele in his assessment of how fortunate the Griz were to land Brammer.
“I think he’s a steal for us,” Hauck said. “Obviously, he’s got to come off a knee injury and do a bunch of rehab and that. But Peyton’s a guy off his junior film that had a lot of interest in the recruiting process. We’re lucky that he decided to jump in. We’ll see how fast he can come back off of that knee, but we’ve got a plan for that. And we’re really excited to have him.”