BILLINGS — Coach Chris Stutzriem was elated with the 12 prospects Rocky Mountain College wrangled during the early college football signing period in December, but that was only half the battle.
Rocky announced 18 additions Wednesday, capping a recruiting class that Stutzriem hailed as a high-quality group.
Among the Battlin' Bears' second wave of signings are three Montana-grown players — receiver Thomas Hubbard of Billings Central, offensive lineman Aaron Richardson of Shepherd and quarterback J.T. Allen of Kalispell Glacier.
They join the seven Treasure State recruits that already signed on Dec. 16: safety Johnnie McClusky of Billings Senior, receiver Jack Waddell of Class A state champion Laurel, safety Donovan South of Class AA state champ Missoula Sentinel, running back Ben Rooney and tight end Brendan Nelson of Hamilton, Polson cornerback J.C. Steele and Harlowton all-purpose athlete Johnny Mysse.
The Bears continued their commitment to building talent and depth in the trenches, and added a combination of seven offensive and defensive linemen to the three they signed previously. Building speed for the passing game on both sides of the ball was also a priority, and Rocky brought in eight receivers and defensive backs on Wednesday.
When he steps back and looks at the totality of the 30-player class, Stutzriem sees potential.
“No. 1, we got high-quality kids. There are a lot of winners in this group,” he said. “We have 16 state champions and 42 all-conference selections. Really, I’m just happy with the coaching staff for bringing in great, quality kids that believe in what we’re doing here.”
Hubbard made a name for himself as a defensive back at Central with a state-leading eight interceptions, including two he returned for touchdowns. But Hubbard is expected to play receiver at Rocky, Stutzriem said, based on that ability to make plays with the ball in his hands.
Shepherd’s Richardson, listed at 6-foot-4 and 272 pounds, is a player Stutzriem said is “a big, strong kid who loves the weight room.”
And Allen, at 6-2 and 200 pounds, threw for 1,443 yards and eight touchdowns in nine games for Glacier and head coach Grady Bennett. He also rushed for a pair of scores. Allen joins incoming Rocky quarterback Brock Mast of Glendale, Arizona, who signed in December.
“He’s a bigger kid and he throws the ball extremely well,” Stutzriem said of Allen. “They ran a no-huddle offense and he’s checking plays at the line of scrimmage. I really like that. I thought he was one of the better ones in the state, and we’re very fortunate to grab him.”
Stutzriem seemed especially excited about new offensive line additions Cess Ibarra (6-2, 274) and Ali'i Kai Ormita (6-2, 296), who each won three state championships at Chandler High School in Arizona, one of the more renowned prep programs in the country.
Tight end Donavan Clinton (6-0, 238) of Bishop Amat High School in the Los Angeles area is a signing that Stutzriem said could be a steal. Clinton was not able to play his senior season in the fall due to COVID-19 restrictions in California.
Stutzriem said Clinton’s father played football at UCLA.
Of all the players in Rocky’s recruiting class, 10 weren’t (or as of yet haven’t been) able to compete on the gridiron as seniors because of the coronavirus. That, along with other restrictions early last year, made for some tricky evaluations in recruiting.
“We didn’t a have spring to go out and look at these guys in person, so we looked at a lot of film to see what they did their junior years,” Stutzriem said. “I think our coaching staff did a tremendous job of getting the right guys for us and getting guys that can continue to build the foundation and make us better in the future.”
Rocky’s other February signings consist of receivers Killian Deniro Jr. of Oakley, California, Cole Harris of Preston, Idaho, and Bryan Dyson of Chandler, Arizona; offensive lineman Jacob Traxler of Moorpark, California; defensive linemen Mahki Smith of Fontana, California, George Klewin of Des Moines, Washington, Max Garcia of Avondale, Arizona, and Cam Steele of Goodyear, Arizona; and defensive backs Va’alele Hansen of Graham, Washington, AQ Peternal of Kemmerer, Wyoming, Corvin Henry of Hernando, Florida, and Ronald Bruce Jr. of Mesa, Arizona.
With their latest crop of recruits signed, Rocky now turns its attention to the contests it has scheduled as part of the Frontier Conference’s abbreviated spring football season.
The Bears are on track to host Carroll College on March 20 to begin a four-game stretch that is designed to at least partially make up for the 2020 fall season that was postponed because of COVID-19.
Stutzriem said Rocky will begin practice Feb. 15 and will be on the field five days a week until the season is set to open.
“Usually we would take a couple days off as coaches and start getting ready for spring ball and those types of things,” Stutzriem said. “But now we’re getting ready for a season. It’s a little bit weird but we’re excited for it.”