NFL training camp gets underway this week, and nine former Montana Grizzlies will be suiting up for nine different teams around the league this year.
Montana’s most recent signee is Caleb Kidder, who was signed by the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent soon after the NFL Draft on April 29, only to be let go last week.
But on Wednesday, Kidder signed with the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots – his favorite team since childhood – on opening day in Foxboro, Massachusetts, after a last-minute invitation to work out for coaches.
“Everything happens for a reason, and now I’m suiting up for the team of my dreams,” said Kidder after an exhaustive first day at camp.
On Tuesday at noon, Kidder received a call saying the Patriots wanted him to come try out the next day. He immediately hopped a plane and landed in Boston at 2 a.m. just hours before his scheduled 9 a.m. workout.
In his invitation, the Patriots told Kidder they were looking to fill a roster spot after veteran receiver Andrew Hawkins announced his retirement. But he wasn’t the only one vying for a spot.
“There were eight guys yesterday and three today who tried out for one roster spot,” said Kidder. “After my workout, they just pulled me into the office and said, hey we’re going to sign you, you’ve got 10 minutes to get to your meetings.”
And just like that, Kidder was a Patriot.
“We are very proud of Caleb and excited that he is getting this opportunity,” said Montana head coach Bob Stitt. “Caleb definitely has the ability to play at the NFL level, and we were hoping he would get another chance to show what he can do.”
Kidder is the ninth former Grizzly to be listed on an NFL roster so far this year as training camps open across the country. That’s the most pros out of any school in the Big Sky Conference and tied for the second most pros from FCS programs in the country.
A recent survey compiled by online sports news site HERO Sports listed Harvard as this year’s FCS program with the most professionals at 13. North Dakota State, Illinois State and James Madison each tied for second with nine, according to the survey. With the signing of Kidder, Montana now moves up to nine as well.
Representing the Grizzlies in 2017 are Kidder (Patriots), Colt Anderson (Bills), Brock Coyle (49ers), Tyrone Holmes (Browns), Trumaine Johnson (Rams), Jamaal Jones (Chargers), JR Nelson (Chiefs), William Poehls (Bears), and Jordan Tripp (Packers).
Last year Montana led the FCS in professional prospects with 11, and could potentially reach that number again this season with Montana natives Marc Mariani and Chase Reynolds still listed as free agents.
So, what makes Montana players such an appealing prospect for NFL coaches?
“I’d say it’s the mentality we all have. Football is such a mental game, and I think that playing for Montana you develop a certain way you go about doing things,” said Holmes, who is entering his second season in Cleveland.
“I think it’s just the toughness and the way you approach the game of football that a lot of us have in common, and it translates to the next level.”
Of all the other schools in the Big Sky Conference, only Northern Arizona, and North Dakota are without an NFL representative this season. Eastern Washington has the second-most pros in the Big Sky with eight, Portland State is close behind with seven, and Southern Utah has six.
Montana State has four former players in the NFL this year, the only other Big Sky school with more than two, according to the HERO Sports survey.
Also suiting up for the Griz in the NFL (in business suits, not helmets and pads) are three coaches with Montana pedigrees.
Former Griz quarterback Marty Mornhinweg currently serves as the offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, Tim Hauck is currently the safeties coach for the Philadelphia Eagle, and Minnesota Vikings D-line coach Andre Patterson are all former Griz.
Griz fans might recognize two other former FCS players who have made the jump to the NFL this season.
Lorenzo Jerome, the defensive back from Saint Francis who had a pair of interceptions in Washington-Grizzly Stadium last season, is now plying his trade alongside Coyle in San Francisco. Also on the 49ers roster this year is former Montana State offensive lineman JP Flynn.
Also of note for Griz fans: former Northern Iowa quarterback Aaron Baily is now lining up at wide receiver for the Baltimore Ravens.
In total, 281 former FCS players are currently on an NFL roster, according to HERO Sports.
Montana opens the 2017 season on Sept. 2 at home against Valparaiso.