This isn’t THE year for the Orediggers.
As the Montana Tech football team enters the 2013 season with fans’ expectations approaching an all-time high, Oredigger coach Chuck Morrell says his team is going in business as usual.
“I don’t want to ever put ourselves into the situation where we’re building up and ‘This is our year.’ I want every year to be the year,” Morrell said before his team traveled to La Grande, Ore., for Saturday’s season-opening game at Eastern Oregon. “Two years ago when I first stepped on here and took over this job, I wanted very badly for that to be the year. I want that every year.”
Kickoff for Saturday’s game is at 2 p.m. Mountain Time. (Radio: KBOW 550 AM, 101.5 FM. Listen live)
“My expectations for my team have been the same every game I ever coached,” Morrell said. “I’m trying to build for the long haul where every year Tech is going to put a team on the field that is going to be consistent and it’s going to push to be at the top of the conference. ”
The Orediggers improved from 3-8 in Morrell’s first year to an 8-3 showing that ended in the playoffs. So, understandably, Oredigger fans are thinking even bigger in 2013.
The Orediggers appear to have a stacked defense and an offense packed with more playmakers than an ESPN drama.
Herman Tapley, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound sophomore from Jacksonville, Fla., will start at quarterback. Tapley got the nod this week when it became apparent to Oredigger coaches that senior Brian Schwarzkoph, who missed most of camp with an injury, won’t have enough reps to be ready to start.
“I think Brian is really close to being ready to go,” Morrell said. “Brian didn’t really get any live full-team snaps until the last couple days of camp.”
Morrell seemed at easy with the situation. He even said he would be comfortable sending true freshman Dawson Reardon into action.
“With the number of playmakers we have on offense, I don’t think it is going to matter who we go with,” Morrell said. “It’s just a matter of delivering the ball to them.”
Playmaker No. 1, of course, is No. 24. Junior running back Pat Hansen ran for 1,218 yards (4.7 yards per carry) and 17 touchdowns last year. He ran for 1,383 and 12 TDs as a freshman.
Morrell is excited about the depth behind Hansen.
“We can keep him fresh,” the coach said. “Taylor Rowe (junior) has been very good. Nolan Saraceni (true freshman) has been very good.”
The backs will be running behind a solid offensive line. Tech lists the offensive line starters as Tyler Denny, Alex Havlovick, Mack Ferko, Travis Oakason and Gage McCann.
Morrell sais his receiving corps is particularly deep. He is expecting big things from Alec Bray, Kevin Moss, Zack Kinney, James Roberts and Zach Bunney.
Morrell is the defensive coordinator for the Orediggers. He marvels at his depth on the defensive front.
Mike Waldman, Logan Sims and Jake Workman are returning starters — and stars — on the defensive line. Jacob Crawford, Austin Brinkworth and Levi Cade also appear on the team’s two-deep.
“With our defensive line, I definitely feel comfortable with eight or nine guys play,” Morrell said. “With our linebacking corps, again six seven, maybe eight guys I have no problem with putting them on the field in any situation.”
Mike Touzinski, David Meis, Tommy Peterson and Niall Padden had big years at linebacker last year. The team gets a boost with the return of linebacker Ryan Jones, a 6-4, 245-pound senior who missed last season with an injury.
Another player returning from an injury is senior cornerback Devonte Craig, who suffered a gruesome knee injury last year. Craig, who Morrell said is the best defensive back he ever coached, returned way earlier than coaches anticipated.
Other key returners in the secondary are Luke Seubert and Joe Mitzel.
Tech’s kicking game is again in solid hands with junior punter Travis Farewell and sophomore kicker Matt Berg, who was also in the quarterback competition during camp.
The Orediggers split with Eastern Oregon last season. Each team won on the other team’s home turf.
The Mountaineers, who fell 57-17 at Portland State last week, brought in a 6-5 transfer quarterback from the University of Idaho. Dominique Blackman, though, didn’t have his eligibility issues cleared up in time to play last week. Instead T.J. Esekielu, a redshirt freshman, ran the offense that Morrell said was better than the score showed.
Morrell said he doesn’t know if Blackman will play or not, and the Mountaineers are certainly under no obligation to let them know beforehand.
“It’s one of those things that is up in the air. We will be ready if he does play,” Morrell said. “To be honest, I am very impressed with their young quarterbacks. They’re very athletic, and that’s probably our No. 1 concern is those guys making plays with their feet when a play breaks down.
“They put up 460 yards and moved the ball well. They didn’t have a problem getting up and down the field against a Big Sky opponent. That right there tells me their offense is going to be good.”
The Orediggers have had trouble with the Mountaineers in recent years. Morrell is 1-3 against coach Tim Camp’s team.
Last year’s home loss — in the opener in Butte — might have been the difference between a Tech home playoff game and the game on the road.
Morrell preaches 1-0 each week, but his team knows that it has to be at its best the first game out of the gate. Even though it’s the first Saturday in September, when all 10 of your games count in conference each week is a must-win situation.
“Every play of every game matters,” Morrell said. “There’s consequences that may carry over if you don’t finish an opponent off. We learned that a year ago.”