BOZEMAN — After 13 months out of football due to injury, it was time to put the past behind and play a game.
Coy Steel, a former Sheridan High School football player and currently a senior at Montana State, made the first tackle of the game, which he returned on Nov. 5. yard line. Steel was named Montana State’s Special Teams Player of the Week in the Bobcats’ 41-38 win.
“I’ve played on special teams for much of my career and I’m proud of that,” Steel said. “I do it with pleasure. There was such a sense of accomplishment and pride and being able to put myself in a position to do this again.”
The injury that sidelined the former Bronc happened on Sept. 25, 2021, while the Bobcats were on the road heading to Portland State. Steel caught the ball on a punt return in the third quarter. He ran down the field and to the touchline, then a Portland State defender grabbed his legs from behind to bring him down. Steel immediately grabbed his left knee. He screamed, screamed and shed tears. He was helped off the field by the coaching staff. Shortly thereafter, Steel was informed that he had torn his patellar tendon. The injury was spurred on by his cruciate ligament rupture during his junior season with Sheridan. Steel tore his left ACL and doctors used his patellar tendon to transplant his ACL. It never fully healed, leading to his injury in Montana State.
Steel underwent surgery the day after the game and doctors knew it would take a year or more. A month later, he underwent a second operation to reduce the possibility of infection. For six weeks, Steel’s knee was kept straight to reduce movement. He had physiotherapy treatments twice a week. He watched from the sidelines in street clothes as the team advanced, but lost in the Football Championship Subdivision national title game.
Steel said he was better informed this time around on how to recover from an injury, having previously suffered a similar injury at Sheridan.
“I was 16 or 17 at the time,” Steel said. “I have a better idea of the path it’s taking. I played baseball about six months after the injury. I probably wasn’t ready for that yet. I probably would have benefited from a longer recovery and maybe could have avoided some of the things that came after.”
Steel admitted that part of him had considered hanging up the cleats for good, but ultimately his love of the game won out. This is his last season.
“I definitely thought about finishing and just moving on,” Steel said. “But I think there was enough of me that felt like I could come back and be healthier than I was for a while.”
Steel said he felt he would regret not returning to the gridiron more than if he did return and injure himself again.
“I didn’t really want to hit the road for five or six years and wish I’d tried to come back,” he said. “I figured as long as I had the opportunity, it wouldn’t hurt to at least try.”
Steel’s football endeavors as a Bronc is something that those involved will still remember and cherish.
“He was the ultimate competitor,” said former Sheridan head coach Don Julian. “He’s one of those guys who just refuses to lose. And so he competed daily. He never picked up a game. He was always as hard as he could go. And he’s one of those guys who, as an underclassman, held the upper class accountable. Very few high school kids have that kind of leadership and courage to hold the seniors accountable.”
Aside from the injury, Steel has loved his time in Bozeman, Montana.
I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Steel said. “I learned a lot and made a lot of good relationships. I really only grew up here with the support of teammates and coaches, friends and family. The location, the people, the fan support, the community are second to none. I mean you can’t beat it. Every week 20,000 fans are screaming in our sold-out stadium.”
There will be no shortage of hype in the state of Montana this Saturday, November 19th. The Bobcats will host ESPN College Gameday on campus, marking the first time a Big Sky school has hosted it. The show, which draws an average of 2.1 million viewers, will shed light on the rivalry between Montana State and Montana, which fans have dubbed the “Brawl of the Wild.” Admission price on secondary ticket sites is $308 per ticket. Kick-off is at 12 p.m.
“Where else in college football is there such passion at this level? Nothing comes close to it in this part of the country. It’s an honor to be a part of it,” Steel said.
The game is for Steel and the rest of the team is eager to compete.
“I think the hype around this game is the same every year no matter what. We could both get last place in the conference and it will still be important for the people who know and understand what this game is about,” Steel said. “College Gameday will let outsiders experience it for the first time. But it’s something you probably can’t understand until you’ve been a part of it. I’m really happy to get the opportunity to participate again.”
Saturday’s rivalry game is the final game of the regular season. From there, Montana will host at least two playoff games. The Bobcats hope to finish the postseason on top January 8 in Frisco, Texas.
Justin Hunter is a reporter at The Sheridan Press.
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