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Montana Tech football leaning on experience, depth as spring ball continues

Posted at 12:19 PM, Apr 07, 2024

BUTTE — The Montana Tech football doesn't need to look far for motivation as the Orediggers wrap up their second week of a three-week spring camp.

Less than five months ago, Tech's first trip to the postseason since 2016 — a Nov. 18 first-round home game against Dickinson State — ended in disappointment as the Blue Hawks prevailed 35-28 to snap a three-game win streak for Tech.

"Losing that game really put a spark in our heads, makes everybody want to work harder," said redshirt senior running back Landers Smith. "We need to come together the best we ever have."

With just three offensive players graduating — running backs Blake Counts and Kaleb Winterburn and offensive lineman Carson Shuman — Smith is set to play an even bigger role in Tech's backfield a season after rushing for a team-high eight touchdowns and 730 yards.

Also returning to Tech's offense is starting quarterback Blake Thelen and wide receivers Wyatt Alexander and Jordan Jackson who combined for 1,610 yards and 13 touchdowns. While there are a few key players graduating, the Orediggers' offense in the fall will largely look the same as the one that took the field last season.

"Having the depth we have with all the older guys and guys who have had experience is huge," said Smith. "I think we got the most returning seniors in the Frontier Conference, which is great for our team."

"I think the biggest thing is that leadership," said Tech head coach Kyle Samson. "A bunch of guys have been in the program now for three, four, five years. They understand what it takes to be successful in this conference. And you can't replace game experience, I think that's a big deal."

There's plenty of players on Tech's roster without that game experience, as the Orediggers had 52 freshmen and redshirt freshmen on the roster in 2023. These spring camp weeks at Bob Green Field have given Tech a chance to allow its underclassmen to develop.

"Really getting a good evaluation of some of our young guys that redshirted last year," said Samson.

Tech carries over its entire coaching staff from last season with the exception of new defensive coordinator Montell Allen, who succeeds Aric Wiliams. Allen spent last season as DC with NCAA Division III University of Chicago and before that was with Lehigh University of The Patriot League.

Allen said that he's placing an emphasis on developing a defensive strategy that complements the strengths of his players.

"Understanding who our guys are, fitting the scheme around them," said Allen. "At the end of the day it's all about the Jims and Joes and not the X's on O's. It all falls back on our philosophy of being fast and physical. And those two things take no talent. Just effort."

The Orediggers will continue their spring camp next week and conclude it with a scrimmage on Friday, April 12.