Tuesday, January 25, 2022

COLUMN: Gilman has front-row seat to Cats’ run

Daily Inter Lake | January 5, 2022 8:58 PM

When Tadan Gilman languished a bit for the Montana State Bobcats football team from 2017-19, he had a solid sounding board: His father, Mark.

“I talked to my dad a lot,” Gilman, a junior safety for the Montana State Bobcats, said. “About being at a program where he wasn’t getting any reps during his first three years. He was No. 2 (at tight end), but it’s not like they had every single package where my dad was in all the time.

“He had great advice for me.”

Mark Gilman, the former Flathead High standout, burst on the scene his junior year at Nebraska; he was part of two national championship teams amid a 25-game Huskers’ winning streak in 1994-95.

This overshadows what the younger Gilman has done at MSU, but after the lost 2020 season, the reps have come for the Glacier High grad. Not as many he wants, probably, but as a backup “nickel” on a defense that plays five defensive backs nearly every down, he’s made his mark.

Example: In the FCS semifinals on Dec. 18, South Dakota State’s first possession covered 81 yards, all the way down to the Bobcat 7. There the Jackrabbits tried to convert a fourth-and-1, and on the field was the 205-pound Gilman.

“Had to man-up on the fullback,” he said. “Had to make sure I leveraged him.”

Meanwhile Troy Andersen — that guy— shot in for a 2-yard tackle for loss. Six snaps later MSU led 7-0 on a 64-yard catch and run by Nate Stewart.

“That was really cool to be a part of,” Gilman said.

Gilman said this on Monday, a couple days before the Bobcats, who beat SDSU 31-17, headed to Frisco, Texas. Like his dad, he’s headed to a national championship game Saturday morning against North Dakota State.

It’s been pretty dizzying. Anyone who predicted Montana’s 29-10 win over MSU in the 120th Cat-Griz game could not have foreseen the Bobcats’ ensuing run. There was a quarterback change, with Matt McKay stunning the state with his entry into the NCAA Transfer Portal.

Yet before you could say, “Well, Tucker Rovig has a couple playoff wins,” it had become clear that freshman Tommy Mellott was the man.

Gilman can vouch for this. Like Gilman, the freshman from Butte had been biding his time, working in on special teams, catching a touchdown pass and running a Wildcat package.

“We didn’t know for sure they were going to make a change,” Gilman said. “But we knew if they did, it would be Tommy.

“He’s a great leader, he’s a smart kid, knows his stuff and is a great athlete. When he rolls out there with the offense, you know he’s going to get the job done. We love having him as a quarterback.”

So the bully on the block, North Dakota State, will have to deal with an MSU team fortified by players who had nursed injuries in December — including Ty Okada, a nickel back who is also Gilman’s roommate, along with Glacier product Jarred Kessler — and Touchdown Tommy.

The Bison are a familiar foe.

“They’re the team that’s knocked us out the last two playoff go-rounds,” Gilman said. “It’s not fun going into Fargo and losing like we did. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth. You just want to play them again and again. This is the matchup we wanted when we began the playoffs.”

It would be a fantastic finale, and Gilman noted Monday that he doesn’t intend to play his senior year at MSU. He already has his degree in exercise science. Chiropractic school, a four-year program, would be next. “I’ll go do that and try to get my life started,” he said.

In 2017 Gilman was told he was an inside linebacker and he managed to bulk up to 230 pounds. One defensive coordinator later he was moved to outside backer and dropped to 220. A third defensive coordinator meant another position change, to nickel. Through it all Gilman stayed encouraged, thanks to his dad and those two roommates.

“The biggest message I get from all three is understanding football is bigger than yourself. It’s about the team,” he said. “The littlest thing you can do for the team can go a long way. I’ve tried to do that through the year on special teams, and on the opportunities I get on defense. I feel like I’ve definitely made a difference.”

Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 758-4463 or fneighbor@dailyinterlake.com

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