It wasn’t intentional, but within hours of each other Brayden Konkol and Derek Marks decided on where they wanted to play college football.
Both made verbal commitments with Montana State University last Saturday. Konkol informed coaches of his decision prior to the Bobcats’ 44-39 home victory against Idaho State, while Marks followed suit after the conference game.
“We talked about playing together for another four or five years and how fun it would be,” said Konkol. “But we never planned on doing it on the same day.”
It’ll be at least another year before both will be in MSU’s blue and gold uniforms. While Konkol, a senior at Belgrade, will join the Bobcats next fall, Marks has another year of high school to complete at Belgrade.
The duo, who are cousins, have plenty of ties to MSU. Marks’ grandfather played for the Bobcats in the 1960’s and both of his parents graduated from the Bozeman-based university. Konkol’s father also briefly played for MSU before leaving the school to join the military.
Thus, both grew up as MSU fans. But that’s not the only reason they opted to extend their football careers locally.
“I chose MSU for a couple reasons. One, it’s really close to home so I’ll have a bunch of friends and family that will be able to watch me next year or the next couple years,” said Konkol. “Also, I feel like I have a really good relationship with the coaches. Coach (Tim) Cramsey is my recruiting coach and I love him. He’s really enthusiastic. Seems like a really good coach. But not just him. I feel like I have a good connection with all of the other coaches too.”
Added Marks: “I really like the coaching staff. Coach (Rob) Ash, he’s got a good winning program up there. Close to home and just to be able to play in front of the hometown crowd would be cool. I think it would be cool to play here and win the Big Sky and hopefully play for a national championship.”
Both Konkol and Marks have been key components in Belgrade’s success the past couple of years. The Panthers won back-to-back Central A Conference championships in 2013 and 2014, and advanced to the postseason both years.
This past season the Panthers earned the No. 1 ranking in the Associated Press’ media poll, but were upset by defending State A champion Beaverhead County High School (Dillon) in the State A quarterfinals, 48-17. Belgrade finished with an 8-2 record.
“Obviously I wanted a state championship,” said Konkol. “But not every team can get that.”
While a state championship eluded Konkol, he’ll leave Belgrade as a highly decorated three-sport athlete. He earned All-State honors at quarterback a year ago after throwing for 1,182 yards and 16 touchdowns, and rushing for another 1,227 yards and 13 scores. He was named the Central A Conference’s Most Valuable Offensive Player.
While this year’s all-conference honors have yet to be released, it’s likely Konkol will garner more accolades. He threw for 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns, while rushing for 827 yards with 15 trips into the end zone.
Those are impressive numbers considering he missed three full games with a knee injury that was suffered in the first half of 40-27 conference victory against Havre on Oct. 3. He returned for the Panthers’ quarterfinal game and had 200 yards of total offense in the loss.
Konkol’s knee injury was serious enough that it required surgery. He wound up missing three games and four weeks of the season, and was initially very worried about his future.
“When it happened I actually was really upset because I thought there goes everything. But I told coach Cramsey and he said ‘that’s fine, it happens. That’s totally fine,’” said Konkol. “They weren’t going to take my scholarship away or anything. That made me feel good and that just helped me choose the school more.”
While the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Konkol shined offensivley for the Panthers, he noted the Bobcats coaching staff is looking at him on the defensive side of ball at either outside linebacker or strong safety. He started at outside linebacker for Belgrade the past two years and finished with 36 tackles and a pair of sacks in 2014.
“I knew I was going to play defense in college since I was like a junior,” said Konkol. “I like defense. That’s perfectly fine with me.”
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Marks has shined as a tight end/defensive end the past two years and even took several snaps at quarterback this past season. He finished with 11 receptions for 214 yards and three touchdowns, while leading team with seven sacks.
“They didn’t say specifically (what I’ll play). But I talked a lot with coach (Bo) Beck, the D-line coach, and they’re just kind of recruiting athletes as juniors. So they’ve offered five of us total,” said Marks. “Right now I’d rather play defensive end, but if they want me at tight end I’ll play tight end.”
While most high school players aren’t quite prepared for the jump from high school to college football, Belgrade coach Eric Kinnaman feels Konkol and Marks will make the transition.
“The good thing is that they both compete and they both work hard. I can talk to the kids until I’m blue in the face about the big change that it is from high school ball to college ball, but they just have to experience it,” said Kinnaman. “But they do have pretty good work ethics, so I think they’ll make the transition. But there is a big change between high school ball and college ball.”
Both players were highly recruited within the state of Montana, including the University of Montana in Missoula, and Konkol received interest from the University of Wyoming where both Marks and he attended a summer camp. Konkol also investigated North Dakota and Eastern Washington University before choosing the Bobcats.
“But by then I knew I was going to MSU,” Konkol noted.
Marks has drawn interest from the University of Missouri, Oregon as well as Stanford. But those school were more excited about his other sport, track, where he’s a standout javelin thrower.
“I’ve talked to some schools like Stanford and Oklahoma, some of those schools,” said Marks. “But I’d just rather play football. Stanford would give you a good diploma, but I just want to play football.”
In addition to football, the 17-year-old Konkol competes in basketball and track. However, he plans to forgo his senior season of track to focus on getting ready for the 2015 football season, which will begin next August.
“My knees hurt toward the end of track season as is — because I do all the jumps,” Konkol explained. “Since I had the knee surgery I just feel like it would hurt a lot more. In the spring I’m going to start focusing on lifting and speed work outs and stuff, getting ready for summer ball.”
Konkol played as an undersized post for Belgrade’s basketball team last year, averaging 8.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, and helped the Panthers place fourth at state. Marks placed in the top 10 at state in the javelin and helped Belgrade finish fifth in the team standings. He’s already looking towards next year’s football season.
“Definitely (want to) go deep in the playoffs again,” the 16-year-old said. “Hopefully some of the younger kids get better and we win the conference again. A three-peat would be cool.”