By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
For his first recruiting class of 2005, Montana State University-Northern head football coach Mark Samson added some immediate help along with some future prospects and a hint of the Hi-Line.
It would be an injustice to call Mason Ophus a hint of anything without great sarcasm. At 6-4, 270 pounds, the former Big Sandy star is ominous presence that Samson can't wait to see in a Lights' uniform.
"He'll definitely help us," Samson said. "He is a big, strong kid. Not having played this year, he'll be a little raw. But he's big sign for us."
Ophus was a two-time two-way all-stater for the Pioneers and helped lead to Big Sandy to the 2003 Class C State Championship game. He signed with Montana State University out of high school, but left school and the program shortly into fall practice.
"When he left school, we let him know that if there was even an inkling that he might want to play again to contact us," Samson said. "He talked with some of our assistant coaches first and then I talked with him."
Samson has Ophus penciled at the defensive line for now, but said he isn't above moving him to the other side of the football if necessary.
"It could change depending on our needs," Samson said. "We think he fits best on defense. I know they wanted to make him into an offensive linemen at MSU, and I don't think he liked that."
Wherever Ophus lines up, he has a chance to see action immediately.
"We had hoped to get him in at semester and have him play spring ball," Samson said. "But he had some other things to take care of. With his size, he definitely has a chance to play right away."
Ophus wasn't the only local player that Northern has added to its roster.
Havre High free safety Ted Wells has signed an NAIA letter of intent to play for the Lights.
Wells (6-0, 170) earned first-team all-state honors for the Ponies this season and was an integral part of the HHS defense and the team's state championship.
A hard hitter and eager tackler, Wells was also one of Havre's best special teams players this season.
"Ted had a good senior year," Samson said. "Probably his biggest asset is his willingness to come up and hit people. He definitely has the size to come in and contribute immediately if we need him to.
Wells will certainly be familiar with the defense since his dad, Rick, is the Lights' defensive coordinator. He transferred to Havre High this year and is also a outstanding hockey player for the Havre Ice Hawks.
Joining Wells and Ophus is former Bozeman High standout running back Zach Wermers (6-2, 215).
Wermers spent the last two seasons as a walk-on with Montana State. In his first year, he competed at running back, but this season he had been moved to defensive end.
"He actually looked at transferring his first year," Samson said. "But he stuck around for one more year and they moved him to defense. I think he finally realized that his best opportunity was somewhere else."
Wermers was a two-year all-state running back for Bozeman High and led Class AA in rushing his senior year with over 1,700 yards.
Samson credited his son Kyle with helping land Wermers. The two graduated in the same year and played in several all-star games together.
"Kyle was really instrumental in signing him," Samson said. "He contacted Kyle a year ago and Kyle really worked on getting him here since."
Wermers is expected to come and contribute immediately.
"He's an extremely tough kid that has got good speed and quickness," Samson said. "He was a heck of running back in high school. We expect him to come in and play right away."
Northern has also added a pair of transfer linebackers from the North Dakota State College at Wahpeton. Cory Sitch of Helena High and Shane Stroebe of Colstrip will also join the Lights.
Sitch (5-11, 200) competed against Samson for the rival Bengals and impressed him greatly. He started his career at Carroll College, but left the team and wound up in Wahpeton.
"When he was junior in high school he had 26 tackles against us in the cross-town game," Samson said. "He's a tough kid, who is going to help us out."
Stroebe (6-0, 195) was an all-conference player at Colstrip, who played in almost every game this season for the Wildcats.
"He is a guy we can see stepping and helping us with special teams and getting some turns," Samson said.
Northern has also added a pair of high school linebackers in Sterling Shearer of Burlington-Edison High School in Burlington, Wash. and Ryne Nelson of Valier.
Shearer (5-10, 195) will join his older brother, Saxton, who was a red shirt tailback for the Lights this season.
Sterling Shearer finished is career at Burlington-Edison as the school's all-time leading tackler and earned several postseason accolades in Washington.
"He's a tough, hard-nosed kid," Samson said. "He suffered a broken leg last summer at a football camp in Alaska, but he came about three games into the season and still was one of their top players. He just has a natural instinct to make tackles."
Nelson was an all-conference player for Valier this season and is the school's leading scorer in basketball.
Also joining the Lights on the defensive side of the ball is defensive linemen Ryan Eamon of Anaconda, James O'Neill of Frenchtown and Jeremy Kjelsrud of Belgrade, along with defensive back Bryant Johnson of Glendive.
Eamon (6-1, 235) was an all-conference player on both offense and defense for the Copperheads as well as solid wrestler.
"He dropped a bunch of weight to wrestle at 215," Samson said. "But he's very gung ho to play and has a great attitude."
O'Neill (6-6, 240) possesses a wealth of size and potential.
"He's huge," Samson said. "I can see him being about 6-6, 280 pounds in a few years."
Kjelsrud (6-2, 275) didn't actually play for Belgrade, having transferred to Montana from Cullman High School in Cullman, Ala.
"He's a big ol' kid," Samson said. "His step dad played for Jack Johnson at CMR and moved the family to Montana. Jeremy's got a great attitude. Everything with him is yes sir, no sir."
Johnson (6-1, 195) was a running back and cornerback for a Glendive team that played Havre High close this season.
"We see him playing safety in the future for us," Samson said.
Rounding out the first group of recruits is Nick Walters of Florence, Mike Chavez of Hardin and Todd Erving of Marshall, Texas.
Chavez (6-1, 170), a receiver with 4.7 speed, will most likely red shirt, while Erving (6-5, 325) is already here in Havre for spring semester and participating in conditioning. He will vie for a spot on the offensive line.
Walters (6-0, 190) came in a more roundabout way. A standout player at Florence in 2001-02, Walters was also a Class B state champion in the 100 and 200 meters. He originally signed to play with Montana Tech, but left the school after a year for the Marine Corps.
He now returns to football, a little older and a little wiser.
"We're taking a chance on him," Samson said. "We watched some old tapes and he could really run."
Samson said he has already has got commitments from several more recruits for next and plans to release their names in the coming months.