Derek Marks made his decision to become a Bobcat a long time ago. Wednesday morning it became official.
The Belgrade High School senior signed a national letter-of-intent to play football at Montana State University beginning this fall. Marks was among 17 prep athletes who signed with the Bobcats on Wednesday, including nine other from the state of Montana.
“It’s been really exciting. I couldn’t be more fired up,” said Marks, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound defensive end. “Very thankful for the coaches and my family, and God for just putting me in this position. Hope I can glorify him well. This platform that I am on is just something special and I hope that I can really use it well and inspire younger kids.”
Marks made a verbal commitment in the fall of 2014, then did not waver when popular head coach Rob Ash was abruptly fired in November. Ash was replaced by Jeff Choate, who Marks had already met through a camp at the University of Washington where Choate had served as the defensive line coach (2013-15).
“I was really fired up about him just from knowing him from Washington. The staff that he’s brought in is unbelievable,” said Marks. “His defensive staff will get things turned around.”
The Bobcats struggled on the defensive side of the ball this past season, allowing 34.3 points and 472.5 yards per game during a disappointing 5-6 campaign. It was an area Montana State’s coaching staff addressed while recruiting as eight of Wednesday’s signings were defensive players.
Bozeman linebacker Balue Chapman (6-1, 289), Helena defensive lineman Chase Benson (6-3, 242), and Fridley, Minn. defensive lineman Lewis Kidd (6-6, 256) also committed to the Bobcats, while Huntley Project linebacker Michael Jobman (6-4, 211) signed too.
“All Montana kids, and Lewis Kidd from Minnesota, it’s going to be big time I think. We’ll have a solid defensive line and front seven,” said Marks. “And we’ll play nasty.”
Marks, a two-way starter at Belgrade, was named the Central A conference’s Most Valuable Defensive Player for his efforts in 2015. He earned All-State honors at defensive end and was a first team all-conference selection at tight end during a 3-6 campaign.
Marks received high praise from Choate, who brought in three out-of-state transfers on Wednesday.
“I love this kid. He exudes blue and gold when you are around him. He is that Montana glue kid you have to have that is going to make everyone realize what a special place this is,” Choate said. “And he’s a dang good football player. He was dominant on the defensive line for Belgrade. Another guy who was at our camp in Washington and I got a chance to work with him there. I’m excited to have him on our roster.”
Despite missing a couple of non-conference games due to a hip-flexor, Marks still managed to lead the Panthers in sacks (8.5) and tackles (52) this past season. He had 15 tackles for a loss, and also blocked a field goal attempt.
It was quite an accomplishment considering the 17-year old often faced double teams from the opposition.
“He causes a lot of disruption. You have to as an offense know where he is and be able to block him,” Belgrade coach Eric Kinnaman said. “A lot of the time it was a double-team generally with a running back because he is so fast around that corner.”
In addition to Montana State, Marks also received an offer from instate rival Montana. But it was the Bobcats all the way for Marks, who was among the first recruits from the 2016 class to commit.
“Committed right before the Idaho State game in 2014,” he said. “And it’s been a patient, long journey I guess. Trying to help recruit for the Bobcats as well, and having other teams come in like the Griz, it’s just been fun though. I’ve been taking it all in and ready to get started.”
Marks also competes in track and field at Belgrade and was a standout javelin thrower prior to a back injury. While he even received interest from Missouri, Oklahoma and Stanford to compete in track, there’s been no second-guessing about playing football.
Marks can begin working out with the Bobcats in early June, and he’s excited to be reunited with a former Belgrade teammate who will be a redshirt freshman defensive back.
“I really like the coaching staff. I always wanted to be mechanical engineer and get an aureospace minor. That was a big thing for academics,” he said. “I had a lot of relationships with the team up there with my cousin going up there and playing, Brayden Konkol, and just the coaching staff that they brought in really solidified things.”