Chuck Morrell had Nathan Kobold with two simple words.
“When I was here my first couple years I never heard people talking about national championships,” the Montana Tech senior safety says. “I never once heard that word — national championship.”
Then Kobold met his new coach in December 2010.
Morrell had just replaced coach Bob Green, who retired after a 24-year career that included playing in the 1996 national championship game.
The Orediggers, though, haven’t been to the playoffs since Kobold was a sophomore in high school.
“The first day we were doing the meetings with the new coaches,” Kobold remembers. “Coach Morrell comes in and he’s like, ‘My ultimate goal here is the national championship.'”
Kobold takes a step back.
“I was like, ‘This is the guy,'” he says. “I never heard that once. You have to have that focus. Otherwise if you never think about it you’ll never get there.”
Now a fifth-year senior, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Kobold is one big reason why Oredigger fans also started whispering those words this season. That whisper has been getting louder and louder with each Oredigger win.
The Orediggers have won seven straight games, moving to No. 7 on the NAIA poll. They can basically clinch the Frontier Conference title Saturday with a Senior Day win over rival Montana Western at Alumni Coliseum.
Kobold is tied for the conference lead — along with teammate Nate Thompson and three others. He also has a fumble recovery.
If those numbers seem low, it’s because it seems like every Kobold turnover comes at a big moment. They all leave a lasting impression.
“Throughout the last couple of years he’d had some pretty significant picks,” Morrell says. “He had a big pick in the Carroll game.”
The Orediggers beat Carroll College 37-20 Sept. 8 in Butte. It marked the first win over the rival Saints since 2004.
Kobold says the days of the Orediggers hoping to win and Carroll expecting to win in that rivalry are over.
“We’ve all been saying, ‘It’s a new era in the Frontier,'” he says.
Last week, Kobold picked off two passes against MSU-Northern. One he returned to the 2-yard line to set up a Pat Hansen touchdown. The other ended the game with Tech up just eight points at 21-13.
“He’s got great hands and he has this knack for being in the right position and coming up with the football,” Morrell says.
Kobold, has another word to explain it.
“It’s effort, man,” he says. “Effort is the biggest thing. I just think effort is the one thing that causes you to make a play or not. I’ve just always got that motor going. That’s something you can control.”
“You won’t find another guy who works as hard as he does to improve himself on a daily basis on our entire team than Nate,” Morrell adds. “If I could coach a young man like Nate Kobold every year for the rest of my coaching career, I’m going to have a great career. It’s so much fun to work with guys who believe in what you’re doing, who care that much and then have the physical ability to take control of the game.”
A year ago, Kobold was a solid safety for the Orediggers. He was in on 75 tackles, picked off two passes and recovered a fumble on his way to earning a second-team All-Conference mention.
Those numbers are particularly impressive when you consider that Kobold never played safety before last season. He was a linebacker at Billings West High School. He was an outside linebacker for the Orediggers, registering 32 tackles as a sophomore.
Morrell marvels at the move from linebacker to safety. “That’s a pretty significant adjustment,” the coach says.
Not only has Kobold got the safety position down to a T, this year he has to be in line for some serious postseason accolades.
“Hell yeah,” Kobold says when you mention postseason awards. “That was my goal all summer, all last year was All-American. I’ll take whatever because I’m working my ass off. But at the end of the day, none of that matters as long as we’re winning.”
Kobold, who has long been known as a “365 guy,” swears he isn’t doing anything different this year. He isn’t working any harder because that’s probably not possible.
Instead, Kobold credits his success to the scheme.
Last year, the Orediggers were just learning Morrell’s complex 3-4 scheme.
“We’ve advanced so much more than we were last year,” Kobold says. “It’s really all the same stuff, but what we were doing last year is kind of basic now. This year we’re not so worried about doing the right thing. We know what we’re doing now, so we can focus on making plays.”
Kobold is one of eight seniors who will be honored Saturday. Ketwuan Frank, David Tapia-Padron, Shane Lowman, Trent Thomas, Joe Semansky, Keith Mullan and Craig Halko are the others.
Lowman, Frank and Tapia-Padron transferred to Montana Tech. Ryan Jones, who is also a senior, has missed the first eight games with an injury. He is eligible for a medical redshirt.
Thomas, Semansky, Mullan, Halko and Kobold came to Tech in the same class in the fall of 2008.
“I think they said the other night like 45 or 50” when we started, Kobold says.
“I hope so,” Kobold says when asked if the players who didn’t last are kicking themselves at the sight of Tech’s success in 2012.
Kobold, who was raised by a single mother, will have quite the entourage for Senior Day. The seniors and their parents will be honored before kickoff.
“I’m going to have a bunch of family here,” Kobold says. “I’ve got my mom (Michelle Marker), a couple of aunts and uncles, my brother and sister. I have a whole crazy dysfunctional family with step-dads and grandparents. I’m going to have three sets of grandparents. I’ll have a bunch of people here.
I’ve got a bunch of support.”
Unlike every other season Kobold, who will graduate in applied health science in May, and his fellow seniors have been on campus, this year’s senior game isn’t a sad occasion. This time around, the Orediggers are hopeful that the game won’t be their last at Alumni.
Kobold has a whole lot to do with that.
“We all knew what we were working for,” Kobold says of making the postseason and making a deep run in the playoffs. “That was in the back of our mind from Day 1.”
First, though, the Orediggers have to take care of the Bulldogs, who always put up a fight against their closest rival.
“If we just focus on the now, our future will be taken care of. It will unfold for us,” Kobold says. “You just try to win this one play. You’re never guaranteed the next.”