Putu Takes Advantage Of Long Break To Get Into Game Shape
Marvin Putu played in 12 matches for Montana State Billings in 2019 but felt the lingering affects of his 2018 knee season all year.
Marvin Putu played in 12 matches for Montana State Billings in 2019 but felt the lingering affects of his 2018 knee season all year.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021
by Blake Timm, GNAC Assistant Commissioner For Commuications

BILLINGS, Mont. – Marvin Putu is more excited than most to get back on the pitch.

After enduring injuries through his first two seasons at Montana State Billings, the sophomore forward from Nanterre, France is ready for a chance to show what he can really do.

“I had a knee injury my freshman year and the following year was pretty hard for me because I wasn’t really free of injury,” Putu said. “But this year is going to be even more exciting. I really want to do good because I haven’t really been able to play at the top of my ability during my college career. I am really excited.”

The COVID-19 pandemic forced Putu and the rest of his Yellowjackets’ teammates to take an extended break. And when MSUB gets back on the field later this month for the program’s first matches since November 2019, Putu believes that he will be in the best shape of his life.

“Honestly, I feel great,” Putu said. “I feel like I am stronger than I was before. I feel very confident and I am looking forward to performing this spring, gaining more confidence so we can be ready for the fall.”

While NCAA postseason and waivers granted for eligibility essentially makes the 2020-21 season an extended spring training, Putu has high goals. It is an opportunity to set the table for future success.

“The goal for the team is to be undefeated,” Putu said. “We want to win every game but we also need to show gratitude and make sure that we respect the game plan. If we can achieve those goals, it will give us a lot of confidence in getting ready for the fall.”

With the chance to having strengthened himself and fully recover from the injury, head coach Thomas Chameraud looks forward to having Putu realize his full potential.

“I think he will be a full impact player for us,” Chameraud said. “It is a big gamble to see where we are going to be as a team after having not played for 15 months. He has been healthy this spring, so far so good. He has a lot of competition at his position this season so I think that will give him a boost.”

If there was ever a good time to have a shutdown for a worldwide pandemic, it probably could not have happened at a better time for Putu.

After his arrival from France, Putu was projected to be one of the Yellowjackets’ starting forwards until a torn ACL derailed his freshman season after just five matches. He was still feeling his way through learning the MSUB system and finished the year with one goal and one assist.

A year later, Putu was back in the starting lineup for the first four matches of 2019 but things never felt quite right. He believed that his knee was stronger than ever but the rest of his body was still playing catch-up.

“When I came back, I felt fine for the first month but then I started having little injuries and I was kind of down,” Putu said. “So I was coming back from my injury but I was also wondering if I would be able to handle it.”

Putu played sparingly the rest of the season, seeing action in 12 matches and taking just seven shots. He returned to the starting lineup on the last day of the season against Seattle Pacific.

It was just four months later that the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a stop. With it, the spring soccer season came to a stop as well. No on-field practices. No access to the gym or weight room. No spring matches. That full stop forced Putu to do the thing his body probably needed most: Rest.

“Not being able to play, I pretty much rested the entire time that we were in lockdown,” Putu said. “I can say that it allowed me to take my time and be able to come back the way I am now. It helped me.”

Where many parts of the country experienced an extended lockdown with the spread of COVID-19, Montana succeeded in keeping the virus at bay early on. By the end of May, MSUB opened its facilities again on a limited basis and Putu took full advantage.

“From May until the middle of August, I was going to the field every single day, working on my skills and a little bit of conditioning,” Putu said. “As soon as they opened the gym I was getting help from our trainer, Tom Ebel. I worked really hard over the summer.”

As spring practice has started in advance of the Yellowjackets’ Feb. 20 opener against Carroll (Mont.), Chameraud has seen a definite change in Putu’s play. He is stronger and more confident of what he can do on the field. The next step is having Putu be more decisive in his play, being more intentional to score goals and make assists.

But that offseason break definitely provided Putu the chance to be right back in the starting 11. “He definitely took advantage of the break,” Chameraud said. “He has really strengthened himself and I look forward to seeing what he can do.”

The Montana State Billings men’s soccer program has long been known for its large number of international players. Of the 22 players on the Yellowjackets’ roster, eight are from Europe.

That international flair extends to the coaching staff. Former head coach Alex Balog, whom Putu played for in 2018, is from Belgium. Chameraud, one of the many international players to compete for MSUB, is also from France and did much of the groundwork recruiting Putu to come to Billings.

“It was easy to communicate with both of them because before I came to the U.S., I didn’t really speak good English. It was easier to communicate with them in French,” Putu said. “Coach Chameraud and I kind of have the same background because we are both from France and there were some other players from France that were there before me. I felt like if they made it at MSUB then I could as well.”

Chameraud remembers being in the same position when he arrived in Billings in 2009. He remembers his English consisting of two greetings and an expletive that we can’t print here. The fact that Balog could speak to him in French put Chameraud at ease when he committed to MSUB.

“When your coach speaks the same language that you do, you know that you have someone who is truly going to be behind you,” Chameraud said. “He felt comfortable with that. He knows that he needs to spend time around our players that speak English but he also knows that if things starting moving too fast that we can help him through it.”

With such a large number of international players on the roster, there is the opportunity to put a different brand of soccer out on the pitch. European players approach the game differently than those born and bred in the United States, proving an opportunity for a different type of synergy between teammates.

“The international players bring a different type of experience to the game,” Putu said. “We understand some aspect of the game better. So they help us with their attitude and we help them work with our knowledge of the game. Our team has a pretty good mix. We get along with each other.”

Chameraud credits that European experience to the fact that many youths play the game from age 5 and on, much like U.S. youth have been brought up playing baseball or basketball. It’s the sheer experience of having played more that brings a higher level of competition to the program.

“The kids we recruit from Europe are from high-level teams that are practicing and playing seven or eight times per week. It is sometimes easier to recruit those high-level academy players who want to play in the U.S.,” Chameraud said. “We have developed that melting pot here at MSUB and that gives us an advantage.

“I think that we have a great mix of international players and U.S. players. We haven’t won anything yet but I think our mix will help us bridge the gap.”

Putu hopes that the international mix will help MSUB continue to climb in the GNAC standings. After finishing fifth in the conference in 2018, the Yellowjackets improved to fourth place in 2019 with a 5-6-1 record, their best finish since 2016. The team’s 16 points were just two behind third-place Seattle Pacific.

In 2019, just six points separated the third through sixth-place teams. The grouping seems to emphasize Putu’s feeling that any team in the GNAC has a chance to win on any given day.

“There is not really a team that is so far superior to the others,” he said. “There may be two or three teams that have a better roster but even then the team that makes the least mistakes will win the game.”

With that attitude, Putu hopes that his fortunes on the pitch will improve and that his remaining three years with the program will yield success. And it all begins with a solid spring.

“It’s a good feeling because we haven’t been able to play for over a year now,” Putu said. “I think that it is great that we can finally go back to playing and doing something that we really like.”