Tyler Natee has former Indiana teammate Clyde Newton to thank for the colorful nickname.
As for this second chance at revitalizing his career in college football, the youngster is forever grateful to a Montana State coach and fellow member of the Euless Trinity fraternity.
The Dallas native admittedly was dejected after an injury deprived him of his sophomore season in Bloomington, and then disheartened after a meeting with the latest crop of Hoosiers coaches. A new regime had been installed, and with it, a new direction forged. That meant a new role for tailback Natee, a former Big 10 Freshman of the Week who once awed with 111 yards rushing — most while operating in the shotgun in option sets — and a touchdown in a 2016 victory over Maryland.
Or, perhaps more accurately, no clear role at all.
“They told me they didn’t really see a need for me, a bigger back in the spread they wanted to run,” Natee recalls of his sit-down with Tom Allen and various staffers, who floated the possibility of a move to defensive end. “It was pretty frustrating. I had a good relationship with my old coach, but we all know this day and age that coaches don’t stay in one place too long. I don’t regret anything. It was a good experience and I definitely learned a lot about myself.
“I could just tell it was in my best interest to go somewhere else.”
Former IU head coach Kevin Wilson had moved to Ohio State to run the Buckeyes’ offense. Recruiting coordinator and confidant Noah Joseph — who served in the same capacity in addition to mentoring the secondary at MSU from 2007-10 before one season as co-defensive coordinator — took a job at Rutgers.
Natee took to Twitter.
Upon being granted his release, he publicly reopened his recruitment with a short post accompanied by a video of himself squatting 500 pounds.
The first person to reach out was DeNarius McGhee.
The Euless Trinity-MSU connection was reignited.
“Me and Coach McGhee had a strong relationship when I was in high school,” says Natee, who rushed for 3,000 yards in addition to throwing for 1,403 with the Trojans.
“At Euless, the Montana State tradition is already installed. We all know about the Bobcats.”
McGhee and MSU had familiarity on their side. A bevy of talented Trinity products had made seamless transitions in Bozeman — among them Tray Robinson, Na’a Moeakiola, the late Eryon Barnett and McGhee, a two-time Big Sky MVP. Also, Natee’s friend and former preparatory teammate Elu Leota was one of the final members of the Bobcats’ 2017 recruiting class.
MSU provided a prime opportunity. The program was thin in the backfield following Nick LaSane’s departure, among others. It was in dire need of a physical presence in short-yardage situations and inside the 20-yard line, where it ranked 12th in the Big Sky with a scoring percentage of just 73 percent.
“Go watch the film from high school and Indiana. He can go downhill,” McGhee marvels. “We want to run power. We want to finish in the red zone. It seemed like a great fit right away. He got his release and then boom, the conversation started.”
“He told me they could really use a back like me to bring strength and versatility to the offense and help them win a championship,” Natee adds. “That’s what I’m all about — I want to win a title. I want to bring something they didn’t have.
“I wanted to go to a program that was already on the rise and help them reach their goals, and have them help me reach my goals.”
Soon, “Big Bacon” — a moniker lovingly bestowed on the colossal 260-pound, 6-footer during some position-meeting banter — would be heading north.
Twenty-one hours north, to be exact.
“That was definitely an experience I don’t want again,” he jokes. “I’ll probably fly home.”
He arrived in time to enroll for the spring semester and to participate in offseason drills.
He and converted wide receiver Karl Tucker have handled the bulk of repetitions in recent weeks as teammates Tyrel Burgess and Anthony Pegues nurse injuries. His production has been modest in two scrimmages to date — 15 carries for 71 yards and one touchdown — but his presence impactful, coaches agree.
“I think we still need to get 12 to 15 pounds off of him in the summer, but he’s got unbelievable balance and vision and he’s so light on his feet,” head coach Jeff Choate remarked last week. “Probably the most impressive thing to me is how intelligent he is because he picks stuff up very quickly … That probably goes back to his high school days as a quarterback; we can line him up in the shotgun and he’s got no problem running the show.
“He’s very easygoing, very laid-back, puts his glasses on and you’re like, ‘This guy’s super intellectual,’ but he’s got a good sense of humor and always has a smile on his face.”
The reason for that is obvious, Natee said. He has been here for a few months, yet Bozeman already feels like home. “It’s definitely a good feeling to know you’re accepted,” he adds.
McGhee had convinced him of that before Natee ever stepped on campus. Natee didn’t bother taking official visits to North Texas and Missouri State. His parents were not thrilled with the distance, Natee says, but “I just told them the best way for me to grow up and become a man is to be as far away from home as I can.”
The first step is being the key addition that fortifies the Bobcats’ pursuit of conference and national crowns.
After a year on the sideline, “Big Bacon” is eager to be unleashed.
“To finally get a chance to be at a place that’s right for me and actually play football again, it’s exciting,” Natee says. “I’m ready to embrace everything and ready for this run.”