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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Brent Vigen is confident his new program is headed in the right direction.

Montana State’s head coach believes this will make his team a desirable place for players to come to and — most importantly — stay at. Already a few Bobcats have entered their names in the transfer portal this week, but Vigen seemed sure the team would be fine.

Vigen emphasized Wednesday retention would be his top priority, both for high school recruits and any transfers. The NCAA recently adopted its one-time transfer rule that will allow all players to change schools once without losing a year of eligibility, making it easier for programs to lose and add talent.

“We have a pretty invested group of guys right now. … What are we doing as a program to keep our guys invested?” Vigen said. “I think that’s the bigger question as far as how we’re going to handle this moving forward.”

Vigen established a depth chart so his new players knew how they had been evaluated by the coaches following the Sonny Holland Classic. Earlier this week, junior wide receiver Tyrone Marshall and redshirt freshman cornerback Tylor Bohannon entered the portal. Both played during the spring scrimmage but appear to desire to seek opportunities elsewhere.

Vigen expects some departures during this time of year after players find out where they rank at their position. He wished MSU’s former players well and hoped they found a favorable landing spot.

Former all-Big Sky honorable mention cornerback Greg Filer III also used the transfer portal to move from MSU to Sacramento State during the transition from former head coach Jeff Choate to Vigen. As of Thursday afternoon, no new players had entered the portal.

Choate often slammed the NCAA for its easing of transfer rules. During a signing day event in 2019, he called the transfer portal “the worst thing that’s ever been invented in the history of athletics.”

He said it was easier for players to quit on a program, adding “it’s an absolutely deplorable message to send to the youth of America.”

Choate left MSU in February to become a co-defensive coordinator at Texas.

When Vigen was at North Dakota State up until 2013, the Bison rarely picked up transfers. However, rules have changed since then.

Vigen said this week he wants to begin building the program through recruiting. However, he’s not opposed to adding transfers. He said the Bobcats likely won’t recruit perfectly, so transfers can fill gaps on the roster.

MSU has benefited greatly by picking up transfers. In 2019, MSU’s defensive front alone featured three FBS dropdowns: Bryce Sterk, Amandre Williams and Jason Scrempos. This week, the Bobcats named Matthew McKay, a North Carolina State transfer, their leading quarterback after spring ball.

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

With a recent increase in transfer waivers being granted across the country, Vigen is thankful rules are at least more concrete now. He fears the “unintended consequences” will include a mass number of players leaving their teams and ultimately finding their most beneficial location is where they already are.

The Bobcats could gain talent from the rule change. However, Vigen worries it may not be easy for anyone who transfers right now.

This academic year, athletes were granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA because of COVID-19. This has slowed the normal turnover a team experiences every season.

“It’s really important for us,” Vigen said, “to look through our lens and say, ‘We have to create the best environment so our guys feel attached here. Not just attached to Montana State, they’re attached to their team and teammates. They’re getting their opportunity here and looking elsewhere is not their mindset.’

“That’s something you’ve always got to keep on the forefront. So you recruit these guys, but the retention more than ever will be a priority. What are you doing as a program to get your guys everything they need to succeed?”

Vigen boasted of the community, university and program potential Bobcats could be a part of. He hopes those benefits would be reasons for players to go to and stay at MSU.

“Our guys have to feel like this is home. And that’s got to be an ongoing thing with the evolution of the transfer rules,” Vigen said. “I think this time, while it’s been on the horizon, it’s been frustrating for coaches more than it has anything else. Now it’s here, and we’ve got to deal with it.”

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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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