Each year, a handful of Native athletes stand out and make an impact on college and professional sports. Some, like Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford, get noticed as a leader in Indian country and the NFL. Others like Jerry Louie-McGee—who set a college record for 21 receptions in a game—and Taylor Mims—who became a premiere volleyball player at Washington State—were turned to when their country needed them to compete internationally.
The strides the following eight Native athletes are making has caused ICMN to take notice and develop a list of eight Native sports storylines you need to watch for this fall!
Can Sam Bradford improve on NFL record?
The Cherokee quarterback and former Heisman trophy winner threw for an NFL-record 71.6 completion percentage while setting a career high in passing yards at 3,877.
Last season was the 29-year-old’s first with Minnesota, where he led the team to a perfect 5-0 start. They missed the playoffs, perhaps due to chemistry issues, as Bradford suggested in an interview with The Pine and Lakes Echo Journal.
“The better you know people off the football field, the easier it is to step into a huddle and ask them to do something, as opposed to stepping in and saying, ‘Hey, I need some time here.’ They’ll be like, ‘Who’s this guy? What are you asking for? Do your job,’” he said.
His first test this season will be in the spotlight Week 1 on Monday Night Football, as the Vikings host the New Orleans Saints Sept. 11.
Taylor Mims, after representing Team USA, continues volleyball at Washington State
Washington State University’s Taylor Mims (Crow) played for the U.S. Collegiate National team this summer, helping them to gold in the 13th Annual Global Challenge Tournament in Croatia.
Prior to being selected to represent her country, Mims was an All-Pac 12 conference honorable mention selection. Her 1.49 blocks per set ranked eighth nationally.
She talked about her international experience with Volleymob.com: “Being able to play against foreign teams allowed me to look at volleyball in a different way; not just technique-wise but see a completely different style. I was able to learn some new maneuvers and a new style of volleyball that I was able to incorporate into my own game.”
Lane Adams becomes next Native starter in the MLB!
As of August, two Native Americans were starting in centerfield for pro baseball teams. One, Jacoby Ellsbury, we know well. Two, Lane Adams, we’re just getting to know.
This Choctaw centerfielder for the Atlanta Braves, 27, will be a Native to cheer for during the last month of the season, as the Braves continue to fight for one of two wildcard spots in the National League.
Will ‘Wondo’ deliver an MLS championship to San Jose?
In August, Chris Wondolowski (Kiowa) added to his record-breaking pro soccer career. He became the only player to score 10 or more goals in eight-consecutive seasons in the MLS. He is still, however, looking for his first championship as the the go-to player for the San Jose Earthquakes.
It’s been 14 years since the Earthquakes captured their last MLS Cup. And Wondolowski hopes he will be the one to bring it back.
“I want to win a championship,” he told ICMN last May. “I love this club and I think that this club deserves another championship and I’d love to be a part of it.”
Currently, San Jose is in the hunt for a playoff spot. Perhaps this will be the year.
Can Bronson Koenig break into the league?
Bronson Koenig, the 6-foot-3 Ho Chunk guard, could become the next Native to play in the NBA this season. He signed a contract with the Milwaukee Bucks as a member of its G-League affiliate Wisconsin Herd. The deal makes him a flex player who can be brought up to the NBA at any time.
There were 51 players called up last season from the NBA’s development league, now called the ‘G-League.’
Koenig pitched himself to NBA teams prior to the draft. “I want to look myself in the mirror each day and say: What do you really want and are you doing everything possible to achieve it?” he said in The Players Tribune. “I know there are a lot of guys in this draft that aren’t working as hard as I am — and it’s going to stay that way.”
The Bucks start the NBA regular season on Oct. 18.
Running Back Papi White finds his niche at Ohio!
A handful of running backs have the talent to also be among the leaders in a statistic other than rushing. Papi White, who hails from the Seminole and Creek nations, was one of them for the University of Ohio football team.
He caught 41 passes for 672 yards and six touchdowns last season for the Bobcats, who made it to a bowl game last season with eight wins. White is already catching eyes at Ohio’s football camp. At just 5-foot-9, he caught a hail mary touchdown pass out-leaping defenders for the ball.
The Bobcats open the season Sept. 2 at home against Hampton.
Can the electric Jerry Louie-McGee keep dazzling at Montana?
Coeur d’Alene tribal member Jerry Louie-McGee made his presence known early last season as a redshirt freshman in college football. The wide receiver set a University of Montana school record for 21 receptions in a game. His final stats—73 receptions for 651 yards and three touchdowns—warranted him consideration for the Jerry Rice Award, given annually to the top freshman in the football championship series.
Before the season, Louie-McGee was featured on ESPN flipping over a teammate into the end zone for a touchdown in practice.
Louie-McGee is already giving credit to his other teammates at wide receiver. “It’s not just gonna be me,” he told the Montana Standard. “We’re gonna be working together as a group to help the team out. We have such a great receiving corps, I don’t think there’s gonna be an issue between who’s gonna get higher stats.”
Montana hosts Valparaiso on Sept. 2 to open the season.
How will Nicco Montano fare as an MMA Ultimate Fighter?
Nicco Montano is a 5’6” Navajo and Chickasaw MMA fighter, was selected to be on season 26 of The Ultimate Fighter, which debuts in August on FS1 is a reality show that pits competitors against each other for the chance at a UFC contract.
Montano, 28, fights in the flyweight division at 125 pounds and has accumulated a professional record of 3-2. She was undefeated in five fights as an amateur.
She shared a piece of advice for aspiring Native pro fighters with Native Entertainment Magazine. “I feel like growing up on the reservation has helped in my everyday perspectives, from what is normal and simple to what is extreme and excessive… You have to eat right for so long, train two or three times a day for six weeks, and be incredibly in tune with your body and mentality, so don’t be afraid to prioritize so you can give it your all!”
Cary Rosenbaum (Colville Confederated Tribes) is a correspondent for Indian Country Media Network. Follow him on Twitter: @caryrosenbaum