‘Beef’ and ‘Speed’ up front for Bulldogs

The offensive output of the 2012 Butte High football team has been nothing short of impressive.

In four games, the Bulldogs have scored a total of 176 points for an average of 44 points per game. The reasons for the offensive outpouring are many, but standing right up front is a five-man group that paves the way for the points.

The Bulldog offensive line is made up of four seniors and a junior, and they’re big. The crew averages in excess of 250 pounds, and they certainly are an imposing bunch.

Tackles Nick Butorovich (6-foot-4, 300 pounds) and Zack Erickson (6-0, 220) join guards Drew Schleeman (6-3, 215) and Anthony Moritz (6-1, 280) as the senior core of the line. Junior Dustin Lamiaux (6-0, 240) fills the middle of the crew at center.

And just one of the things more impressive than the size of the line is its collective intelligence. Erickson and Lamiaux are straight-A students, while the other three aren’t far behind.

“They’re definitely smart,” said first-year offensive line coach Casey Dennehy, who recently completed a successful playing career at Montana State following a standout run at Butte High. “That translates to the football field, where they have the ability to adjust on the fly to a new defense. That makes it really nice for the coaches.”

Erickson holds a 4.0 grade point average and is hoping to be accepted in the engineering programs of schools like MIT or Cal Tech, but he’s also busy helping his team to its best start in years. Erickson was honored as the offensive lineman and offensive player of the week after Butte’s 45-13 win over then-No. 5 Billings West.

“We played a great game I guess,” Erickson said modestly, though he graded out at 92 percent after the coaches watched the game film.

“He had a really tough matchup,” Moritz said of Erickson. “The guy was 20 pounds heavier and four or five inches taller.”

“Everyone is four or five inches taller than me,” Erickson joked.

The line’s chemistry is apparent, and the group sticks together, even off the field.

“We’re pretty close,” Schleeman said. “(Quarterback) Dallas (Cook’s) dad cooks us dinner on Thursdays and we bowl as a team a lot.”

“We don’t do anything too wild during the season,” Moritz said. “We hang out and play Madden and stuff, but we try to focus football, football, football. But in the meantime we try to have some fun.”

The four seniors say they’ve played on and off since Little Guy football, with Moritz (also known as “Chunk”) and Butorovich (also known as “Bubba”) having started for Butte’s varsity squad in each of the past three seasons.

“Me and Chunk have been together for four years and we’ve learned a lot about each other,” Butorovich said. “I can just grunt and he knows what it’s about”

“We speak in code,” Moritz agreed, noting that semi-verbal communication helps the pair deal with situations like blitz pickups before, during and after the play.

Erickson and Schleeman are the “fast side” of the line, while Moritz and Butorovich are known as the “beef.”

“And Dustin splits it down the middle,” Schleeman said with a laugh.

“He does a pretty good job,” Butorovich said of the line’s lone junior, the group’s other 4.0 student. “He’s a smart kid, and he’s really stepped up.”

The players like how their offense has stacked up to opposing defenses, though they agree the work is far from over.

“Billings West we expected to have a pretty good D,” Schleeman said. “They came out in a 30 front right off the bat. We played that pretty well and they couldn’t stop us, and we really haven’t had a team stop us yet. We’re still working hard at it and doing the same things every week.”

Dennehy said the line is working hard to be team leaders by example.

“Football games aren’t won on Friday,” Dennehy said. “The work you put in earlier in the week is what it takes to win. I try to remind these guys of that, and I tell them they’re the ones pushing this train.”

Dennehy, who took over as the line coach from offensive coordinator Mike Schmidt, brought a few things with him from MSU.

“Coach Dennehy came down from Bozeman and has helped us out quite a bit,” Butorovich said.

“He brought some really cool things down for us to learn,” Erickson said. “He’s been a big influence.”

The quintet spoke of a renewed focus on footwork, along with time spent rolling a tennis ball between their hands during practice in an effort to aid hand movement by the players.

“It’s just basic technique stuff,” Dennehy said, adding that he felt able to communicate with the players considering his age is relatively close to that of the team members. “They respond well, but I walked into a really good situation with all these players.”

Naranche Stadium has been the site of all three of Butte’s wins this season, and the line sung the praise of home field advantage given by the field and the partisan crowd.

“At Naranche you’re so close to the crowd,” Lamiaux observed. “It gets really noisy. I don’t really notice it when we’re on offense, but definitely it helps out our defense.”

“We’ve got the best venue in the state,” Erickson said.

Butte High hits the road Friday morning for Billings, where the Bulldogs will play Senior on the same field that saw Butte’s only loss this season, a 55-48 setback to Billings Skyview.

“We shouldn’t have lost that one,” Moritz lamented. “It was a big learning experience for us and we got better after that game. It made us better.”

They’ll find out just how much better on Friday. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. at Daylis Stadium. KBOW’s Paul Panisko will call the game on 550 AM.