Broken hand can’t slow Tech linebacker

On the football field, Mike Touzinsky feels no pain.

On the bus, well, that’s a different story for the Montana Tech sophomore outside linebacker.

Touzinsky told everybody who would listen about his agony on the bus ride home from Tech’s 24-6 win over Rocky Mountain College Sept. 29 in Billings.

“I was complaining about it to everyone,” Touzinsky says as he laughs at the memory. “I was like ‘man, my hand hurts.'”

His hand hurt because he broke it. Sometime in the first half of the game, Touzinsky snapped the fourth metacarpal bone, which is above his ring finger on his right hand.

The linebacker from Temecula, Calif., isn’t sure when he actually broke his hand. He didn’t even know when it started hurting.

Rocky Mountain College didn’t notice either. That’s because Tech’s No. 47 recorded 12 solo tackles, one assisted tackle, four tackles for a loss of 16 yards, two sacks, one fumble recovery and one pass break up to lead the ways as the Orediggers dominated the Bears.

His performance stood out so much that Touzinsky was named the Frontier Conference Defensive Player of the Week after a game that saw two of his defensive teammates — Ketwaun Frank and Nate Thompson — took interceptions for touchdowns.

A week later, Touzinsky proved his performance wasn’t a fluke by registering 10 solo tackles. He was also in on three other take downs, and he recovered  a fumble while playing with a cast on his hand.

“I don’t have to catch too many balls, so it doesn’t really slow me down,” Touzinsky said.

He knows this because he’s been down this road before. Saturday against Southern Oregon wasn’t the first time Touzinsky played with a cast on his hand.

“I did the exact same thing on my other hand last year,” he says. “I broke my thumb and had to have surgery on it. I wasn’t sure what play it was on. I’m always using my hands. It just felt like pain, it didn’t feel like a break right away.”

Through five games, Touzinsky is ranked No. 3 in the Frontier Conference with 10.2 tackles per game. He also has three fumble recoveries and an interception. In Tech’s first win over Carroll College since 2004, Touzinsky picked off a pass and scooped up a fumble and returned it 50-plus yards to set up a touchdown.

Touzinsky’s three sacks is second on the team, behind only defensive lineman Jacob Workman, who has registered three and a half quarterback takedowns.

Oredigger coach Chuck Morrell says 6-foot-3, 215-pound Touzinsky is playing smart and playing fast. The coach says that isn’t an accident.

“He has great athleticism, but he also plays harder than anybody else on the field,” Morrell says, adding that Touzinsky, like many defensive players, is thriving in the second year of a complicated 3-4 defense.

“A year ago, I think he really struggled schematically, just getting lined up and some of the basic things,” Morrell says. “He was still playing hard, but he didn’t know where he was going or what he was supposed to do. Now he really knows the defense inside and out.”

Touzinsky is in his third year at Montana Tech. He redshirted during Bob Green’s last year as coach in 2010.

He’s played linebacker since his days at Great Oakes High School in Temecula, which is about 35 miles north of San Diego. Still, he said, learning Morrell’s defensive system wasn’t an easy thing to do.

“It definitely takes a while to get down,” he says. “We’ll have meetings every single day. Coach (B.J.) Campbell, in specific, goes really in depth. He’s a perfectionist in all our meetings. We try to incorporate it in games.

“It clicked for me about halfway through last season,” Touzinsky says. “The first spring was really tough. I kind of knew what was going on, but I messed up a lot. I knew what was going on by the second half of the season.”

Still, the linebacker was limited because of the injury he suffered against Eastern Oregon early in the season. He had a spiral fracture on his thumb, and the injury required surgery. So he sat out a couple of games and played mostly on special teams. He registered 15 tackles and a sack as a special teamer and part-time linebacker.

“I got the starting job this year and I knew I had to step up and play fast,” Touzinsky says. “Speed is probably my strength. I’m a little skinny for an outside linebacker.”

A year ago, the Orediggers struggled to a 3-8 season, and the team had to win two of its last three games to get that far.

This year, the Tech defense is one of many driving forces that has Tech sitting pretty in the Frontier with a 4-1 record. The winners of four straight, the Orediggers are ranked No. 13 in the NAIA.

That is something that doesn’t surprise Touzinsky at all.

“I knew our defense was going to be aggressive,” he says. “We finally all had the playbook down to a T. Last year it was kind of questionable. Now everyone is flying around and knows what’s going on. We’re just pulling the trigger.”

Touzinsky, who is known as “Touz” or “Mike T” to his teammates and coaches, still isn’t the most accomplished NAIA football player in his family.

His brother, Ben, was a defensive tackle at Saint Xavier. As a senior last season, Ben Touzinsky helped the Cougars beat Carroll 24-20 in the NAIA national championship game.

Touzinsky says his brother isn’t shy about pointing out — maybe even rubbing in — that national championship.

“He encourages me, too,” Touzinsky says of his brother, who recently accepted a marketing job in downtown Chicago. “He calls me every Saturday. He’ll watch the games online and stuff like that.”

Touzinsky, who is studying marketing at Tech, is originally from the Windy City. He still has family there. He lived in Temecula most of his life.

After looking at Saint Xavier, Rocky and Southern Oregon, Touzinsky chose Montana Tech in part because he wanted to be independent from his family.

“I really didn’t want to go to school with my brother,” he says. “I wanted to go somewhere mountainous. I just fell in love with Montana, and I thought Butte was awesome.”

So far in 2012, the feelings are mutual. Touzinsky has been the top playmaker on a defense full of them.

The town and Oredigger fan base is also getting quite used to seeing its new star playing with a cast. He’ll get the cast off after about a month.

But really, what’s the hurry? No. 47 will be hard to recognize without a cast on one of his hands.

“Once I get that off,” he says, “I’m pretty sure I’ll have to tape it up.”