MSU Spring Football Practice (copy)

Montana State head coach Brent Vigen oversees the first day of spring practice March 23 at Bobcat Stadium.

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Cam Gardner has loved football since he was a child. He embraces the work required to enjoy the exhilaration of a game-day atmosphere.

The last couple years of his career, though, have been demanding. Gardner was a walk-on at Utah. Trying to earn as much playing time as he could was his most challenging obstacle.

“It definitely wasn’t easy,” Gardner said. “Just making the most of your opportunities, even if they’re limited. Just overcoming that and be able to play as a walk-on. Being a walk-on is one of the toughest things I’ve gone through.”

Gardner believes his two years with the Utes is a sign of his motivation and willingness to fight for a role with a team. The sophomore wide receiver is transferring to Montana State with that same mentality.

“I don’t really look at personal milestones,” Gardner said of his goal for himself at MSU. “For me, I just want to win football games and help the team out. That’s the biggest thing for me. I just want to be a great teammate, a great football player who can help Montana State win some ball games.”

Gardner played in all five of Utah’s games last season, with his lone stat being a tackle on special teams against USC. In 2019, he played in seven games on special teams as a true freshman and lined up at wide receiver in three.

Gardner was compelled to leave Utah because he desired a larger role in an offense.

“I wanted to get on the field and help a team win,” he said, “so just the opportunity to able to spread my wings somewhere else, that was the major deciding factor.”

Gardner, listed at 5-foot-10, 183 pounds, is from Danville, California, and played at Mater Dei High School. As a senior, he caught 17 passes for 392 yards and four touchdowns, including a 27-yarder in the state title game. He totaled 43 receptions for 431 yards and a TD his junior year, during which Mater Dei also won a state title. Gardner also competed in sprints in track.

Gardner chose MSU because of academic as well as athletic opportunities. He’s pursuing a degree in business marketing.

“If I push myself, I could thrive and really help the team,” he said. “Academics and athletics, and it’s a beautiful state, so it was a win-win-win for me.”

After the Bobcats released their depth chart last month, head coach Brent Vigen anticipated some departures after players found out where they ranked at their position. MSU has lost depth at wide receiver recently.

Tyrone Marshall, a junior, entered the transfer portal following the Sonny Holland Classic in April. In 2019, Marshall caught three passes and ran for 163 yards and two touchdowns on 12 attempts.

Mark Estes, an all-state player at Drummond in 2015 and Kalispell Glacier in 2017, is headed to Montana Tech. The sophomore receiver had 64 rushing yards and 29 receiving yards in 2019.

John Knight, a redshirt freshman quarterback-turned-safety from Colville, Washington, also entered the transfer portal this week.

Vigen said he wants to build the program mostly through high school recruiting, as North Dakota State did when he was an offensive coordinator there. However, he’s willing to add transfers because they can fill gaps on the roster.

“It’s about finding the right type of fit, no different than a high school kid,” Vigen said previously. “So you have to do your homework.”

During the recruiting process, Gardner primarily spoke with wide receivers coach Justin Udy, who Gardner called “very straightforward” and “honest and genuine.” Gardner feels he’ll be pushed to perform at a high level at MSU, which is what he wants.

“If you outwork everyone and commit yourself to the grind, special things will happen,” Gardner said. “I’m really going to carry on that tradition of hard work and a blue-collar work ethic at Montana State.

“I just can’t wait to be out there.”

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Colton Pool can be reached at cpool@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @CPoolReporter.

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