Class of 2016
On a Thursday afternoon in May, Kane Ioane turned on his projector screen. With a few fellow former Montana State assistants joining him for lunch, Ioane pushed play.
On the screen, a landmark moment in Ioane's life played out. Ioane took his guests back to November 23, 2002. Ioane, an All-America junior safety for the Montana State at the time, led the Bobcats into Washington-Grizzly Stadium with literally nothing to lose.
The Bobcats had won four of five contests entering the rivalry game in Missoula. But Montana was 10-1, No. 2 in the nation and the reigning national champions. The Grizzlies had won eight of the last 10 Big Sky Conference titles. And Montana was the proud owner of "The Streak".
The last time Montana State had defeated Montana, Bobcat freshman starting quarterback Travis Lulay was two years old. Ioane was four. The Griz had won 16 straight times in one of the oldest and fiercest rivalries in college football.
The Bobcats knew a win could end all the smack talk. Bragging rights and the Big Sky Conference crown could return to Bozeman.
"We had the utmost confidence going into this game," said Ioane, his eyes glimmering with pride.
As the practice week began, a new sense of focus surrounded the team. Ioane remembers it being the crispest week of preparation in his two-plus decades in football. On Saturday, no one spoke. The magnitude of the task at hand was more serious than any words could express.
"Saturday morning, I'd never been at a walk through where everyone's eyes were slit," Ioane said. "We were as sharp as we'd ever been. We walk into the stadium, the crowd is booing you and we blocked it all out. It was just us against all of them. We knew what was about to happen.
"We knew 'The Streak' was ending that day."
In the third quarter, Lulay hit Junior Adams on a perfectly thrown slant route and Adams did the rest, jetting 53 yards for touchdown to give MSU a 10-0 lead. It was all MSU's Big Sky-best defense would need. MSU clinched a 10-7 win. "The Streak" was finally over.
"Just being able to go home now and not have to listen to everybody saying, 'when are you going to beat the Griz?' It's a huge monkey off our backs," Ioane said then.
"Downtown was shut down around 10 o'clock because it was such pandemonium," Ioane remembers now. "I've never seen Bozeman like that and I probably never will until we win that national championship. Grown men in tears, coming up and giving us hugs because of what it meant to end that streak. That feeling is indescribable really. That group of guys will forever be united because of that moment."
When the final gun went off, a new era was upon the Treasure State. The Bobcats, a team that was 0-11 in 2000, were finally back. Ioane and his classmates would add another Big Sky title in 2003. Lulay would post a 3-1 record against the Griz.
It's been an amazing 16 years for the 33-year-old Ioane. He finished his playing career as the only four-time All-America selection in Montana State history. He was the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year as a senior in 2003. Ioane is now the Bobcat linebackers' coach and Montana State has collected six Big Sky championship rings since that 2002 title was clinched.
"When you talk about Kane as a player, the word swagger comes to mind," former Montana State offensive line coach Jason McEndoo, now an assistant at Oklahoma State, said in 2013. "My first year (2003), the defense was running the show. He had the long hair and was strutting around. The thing that I appreciated about him then and what I appreciate him now is how much of a competitor he is."
Ioane played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers briefly, but he found himself back on the Montana State campus as a 23-year-old student assistant. He quickly accelerated into a full-time assistant position on Rob Ash's staff when Ash took over for Mike Kramer in 2007. He's spent the last seven years as Montana State's full-time linebackers coach, helping to mentor All-America picks Bobby Daly and Jody Owens, the 2012 Big Sky Defensive MVP.
"It's special to be around a coach who you know had success as a player," said Daly, now a graduate assistant on Paul Petrino's staff at Idaho. "I would just pick his brain for how he had success. He told me was 'You have to want to be great.' He reminded me of that every day."
Between 2010 and 2012, the Bobcats ascended to the ranks of the nationally elite. MSU won three straight league titles and advanced to the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs two straight years. Ioane's linebackers have played a big hand in the rise.
Two-time All-Big Sky selection Clay Bignell was a team captain in 2011. Owens was one of the Big Sky's his last two seasons and a captain in 2012. Senior middle linebacker Na'a Moeakiola was an all-league pick last fall and enters 2013 as a captain and honors candidate.
“A few years ago, I tried awfully hard to hire that kid (Ioane),” former Montana State head coach Mike Kramer, the head coach at Idaho State, said last fall. “He’s been nothing but a great Bobcat since the moment he said, ‘I want to be a part of your program, Coach Kramer.’ That’s one of the cool things that a lot of people really need to understand. Kane is about being a Bobcat. He became a Bobcat when it was not fashionable, when it was not cool. As an in-state kid, if you said you wanted to be a Bobcat, you risked the derision of your classmates whether you were in grade school or high school or middle school.”
As a player, Ioane was known for his competitive fire, his swagger and his fearless nature. Coaching has become his competitive outlet.
"He's outstanding on game day down there on the field," said former Montana State head coach Rob Ash. "He has an aura around him that gives our guys confidence when times get tough."
For all the above reasons and more the Montana Football Hall of Fame selection committee chose Kane Ioane to be inducted into it's inaugural class in a category of football contributor along with legendary Bobcat player and coach Sonny Holland. When Kane's mother Rhonda and father Kas heard the news, it's not hard to see where their son get's his humility, they just humbly said "thank you".
As Ioane watches the replay of one of his finest moments from a decade earlier, the pride in his face is apparent. As you look out his office window, you can see Bobcat Stadium, a venue that's quickly building a reputation as one of America's best. The stadium got a facelift before the 2011 season, with a 7,200-seat end-zone addition to the south and a multi-million dollar scoreboard to the north.
Ioane wasn't the only great on that 2002 team. Lulay is still a star in the Canadian Football League. Adams is the wide receivers coach at Boise State. Roger Cooper is Idaho State's defensive coordinator. Ryan Johnson, Adam Cordeiro, Jon Montoya, Jason Nicastro, Ray Sebestyen, Beau Clark, Brent Swaggert, Joey Thomas, Corey Smith; all are names Bobcat fans still mention when talking about the greats.
In 2012, Ioane put together a 10-year reunion for the 2002 'Cats. More than 20 guys showed up.
"I'm extremely privileged to be able to be here and experience this first hand," Ioane said. "The reaction from those guys — seeing the stadium, the atmosphere, even the uniforms — they knew they helped pave the way for this. They all take the utmost pride in what we accomplished, how we were able to put this program back on the map."
By COLTER NUANEZ