A Big Signing Day for the Braves

By Beacon Staff

At the University of Montana, Travis Andrus is going to have to get used to catching passes from somebody other than Brock Osweiler.

The Flathead High School senior has been on the receiving end of Osweiler’s passes since sixth grade, culminating with his standout season last fall. Andrus caught 57 passes – third best in school history – for 812 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2008. Now he’s heading to Missoula to play wide receiver for the Grizzlies.

Meanwhile, Osweiler is down at Arizona State University battling for the starting quarterback position for the Sun Devils. Joining Andrus and Osweiler as Division I recruits from Flathead’s 2009 graduating class is Tyler Thomas, a lineman who’s heading to Oregon State University. Also, Charlie Farrington, a talented lineman for the Braves, is heading to NAIA’s Minot State University.

Osweiler, Andrus and Thomas recently made their college commitments official when they signed their letters of intent on Feb. 4. Osweiler graduated high school early and is already in Tempe, while Andrus and Thomas filled out their paperwork in front of cameras and family at Flathead High School. Braves head coach Russell McCarvel was also present, along with Tom Little, a Braves legend who played at Oregon State.

National Signing Day is the first day football prospects can sign letters of intent to play in college.

“It feels good,” Thomas said after his signing. “It’s a weight off my shoulders.”

Thomas, Andrus and Osweiler led the Braves to consecutive state tournament appearances their junior and senior seasons, breaking school records along the way. They finished their careers as one of the most dominating gridiron trios the school has ever seen.

In his senior year, Osweiler broke the school records for touchdown passes (29), total touchdowns (42) and total yards (3,463). For his career, he threw for 8,655 yards and 80 touchdowns, as well as rushing for 20 scores. The 6-foot-8 field general is consistently mentioned in conversations about the greatest quarterbacks to ever come out of the Big Sky state. He was named the Montana Gatorade Football Player of the Year for 2008.

Osweiler is vying for a starting quarterback role at ASU, a vacancy left behind by departing senior Rudy Carpenter. Jack Elway, John Elway’s son, is among the five quarterbacks battling for the top spot. Osweiler isn’t considered the frontrunner, but is certainly in the mix. The Sun Devils, coached by former Montana State University quarterback Dennis Erickson, are coming off a disappointing 5-7 season.

Thomas is a naturally strong, mobile lineman who is also one of the state’s top wrestlers. He finished second in Class AA’s heavyweight division last year. Thomas, who is 6 feet 3 inches and 275 pounds, doesn’t know if he’ll play offense or defense at Oregon State. His coaches told him he’s versatile enough to go either way, but he’s leaning toward offense.

At Flathead, Thomas was the anchor of an offensive line that helped lead the Braves to the state’s top-ranked passing game last year and third-best overall offense. On the defensive line, Thomas had 75 tackles, including 12 for a loss last fall. He recovered three fumbles and ran one back for a touchdown.

First things first, Thomas is trying to win the state wrestling title in the heavyweight division, which ends this month. He’ll stay in shape and try to maintain his current weight over the spring and into the summer until he heads to Oregon in July. Calling it “quiet and small,” Thomas said Corvallis is suitable for a small-town Montana boy. He is considering engineering as a major. His father is an engineer.

Thomas said his emotions have been teetering between slight nervousness and sheer excitement.

“I don’t know what to expect,” he said.

Andrus is a lifelong Grizzlies fan. His sister, Brooke Andrus, currently runs track and cross country there and his father was the starting quarterback for the Griz in the early 1980s. So it appears destiny has brought him to Missoula, where he is one of 19 new recruits, including nine in-state.

At 6 feet and 175 pounds, Andrus has a good build for the Football Championship Subdivision. Andrus has solid speed and soft hands, which were necessary to handle many of Osweiler’s darts. Andrus said his toughest transition at college might be adapting to a new quarterback.

“It will take some time to get used to,” he said. “Brock’s always thrown the ball faster than normal.”

It is rare for a Montana high school team to send three players to Division I, along with a fourth player at the NAIA level. Thomas and Andrus said it’s a reflection of a special class.

“It says a lot about our group,” Andrus said. “We have a lot of talent. We were always like a family.”

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