Saturday will mark the final football game as an Oredigger for 14 seniors when Montana Tech plays Southern Oregon at Alumni Coliseum.
Some — like Zack Kinney and Ryan Jones — have plans take their games to another level after college. For most, though, it will be their last time in a football uniform.
For Brian Schwarzkoph, Saturday’s game will serve as one more reminder that football is not always fair.
The Billings West product had a career at Montana Tech that was full of promise and disappointment. That disappointment comes from some bad timing and some really bad breaks.
“The thing I appreciate the most about Brian is he is a mentally tough guy,” Montana Tech coach Chuck Morrell said. “That’s the highest compliment I can give to anybody. He’s continuing to work in the dark times here. He’s staying involved, staying focused and staying locked in. That really goes a long ways toward speaking about his character.”
Schwarzkoph’s career at Montana Tech will forever be tied to Nick Baker.
In 2009, the two quarterbacks redshirted, spending time on the scout team. In 2010, Schwarzkoph came out on top in a long battle with Baker for the backup spot behind senior Matt Komac.
Schwarzkoph again edged Baker in 2011, this time for the starting job in Morrell’s first season at Tech. He started eight games before injuring his hand in a loss at MSU-Northern.
Baker took over the starting job and found success with a pair of wins late in 2011. Then he won the starting job in 2012, playing every game as the Orediggers won the Frontier Conference title and earned a trip to the playoffs.
As the backup quarterback, Baker found a way to play in all 11 games at different positions.
During the last offseason, Schwarzkoph was preparing to move to receiver for his final year. Then Baker dropped a bombshell on the team, announcing he was forgoing his senior season to attend graduate school.
“He’s an athletic guy and he’s an athletic player,” Morrell said of Schwarzkoph playing receiver. “That’s something we looked at going into last spring. Obviously we had to change things.”
Schwarzkoph refocused on quarterback and took hold of the starting job and new offensive coordinator Corey Fipps’ offense during spring drills, and the Orediggers were counting on Schwarzkoph to lead the team back to the playoffs.
When fall camp opened, those hopes fell apart quickly.
Right away Schwarzkoph suffered a torn quadriceps muscle, sidelining him for most of the fall camp.
“That’s actually a pretty significant injury,” Morrell said. “It was not a strain, it was a tear. That held him back.”
Schwarzkoph returned to action for the Sept. 21 unveiling of the Bob Green Field, and he played well in a loss to Montana Western. It appeared he would once again be the Oredigger starter.
The next week, he sprained his ankle — badly — early in the game.
That injury turned Schwarzkoph into a spectator and, kind of, a coach for more than a month. He spent time in the coaching booth during games.
Saturday, when the Orediggers celebrate Senior Day in the season finale against the Raiders, Schwarzkoph will re-assume the role of quarterback.
Morrell said Herman Tapley will likely get the start behind center. No. 4, though, will definitely see action.
“Brian is about as healthy has he has been all season,” Morrell said. “He’s been very competitive this week in practice. On the last day as an Oredigger football player we’re going to give him the opportunity to be on the field for sure.”
Morrell has nothing but praise for Schwarzkoph, who is pursuing a degree in applied health science.
“He’s a first-rate young man,” the coach said. “When you’re coaching guys you get a sense of guys that are going to go on in life and be really successful, impact people in the world. You really get the sense of that with Brian.”
Other seniors making their last Oredigger appearance are Jones, Kinney, Devonte Craig, Kevin Moss, Luke Seubert, Logan Sims, Joe Mitzel, Tyson Shriver, Niall Padden, Jacob Workman, James Roberts, Leif Knatterud and Mike Waldman.
Morrell said seeing their playing careers end is bittersweet.
“It’s tough losing them from the playing field, but you’re also excited for them in the next chapter of their lives,” Morrell said. “I want to see these guys go out and do some great things with their lives.”
The coach also wants to send his seniors out in style.
“If we can play well for four quarters, put everything together and send these guys out on a big win it would be a great feather in their cap,” Morrell said.