David Meis’ college football career started with a bang. Unfortunately for the Montana Tech linebacker, it was the wrong kind.
As a redshirt freshman, Meis got the start at Sam linebacker in Montana Tech’s season-opening game against Eastern Oregon in 2012.
The first offensive snap of the game for the Mountaineers is one Meis will never forget.
“I got lit up by a pulling guard,” Meis, now a senior, said moments after the Orediggers posed for their 2015 team photo Tuesday during media day. “The first play of my college career.”
The Orediggers struggled to a disappointing loss at Alumni Coliseum that day.
The next week, the Orediggers rebounded to beat Carroll College at home to start an eight-game winning streak that led to the Frontier Conference title.
Likewise, Meis quickly rebounded from the rough start to his career. The Helena High product started all 31 games of his Oredigger career, and Meis established himself as one of the top defensive players in the conference.
Last year he cemented his legacy as one of the all-time Oredigger greats by earning second-team All-American honors.
Making the accolade from the American Football Coaches Association even more impressive, and somewhat bitter-sweet, was that it came after the Orediggers finished 1-9.
“You have to appreciate it,” Meis said of the All-American nod. “I wasn’t expecting it at all. Not a lot of people on losing-record teams are recognized.”
This year will be Meis’ last in an Oredigger uniform. That is a fact not lost on the 2010 Montana Class AA co-Defensive MVP.
“It’s hard to believe I’m a senior,” said Meis, who became an Eagle Scout before graduating from high school. “It’s my last go-around, so I’m taking all I can from fall camp and appreciate all the privileges of being a football player still.”
Watching Meis play the last three years has definitely been a privilege for Oredigger fans who got used to seeing Meis team with Will linebacker Mike Touzinski to form what they called the “Dynamic Duo.”
“I definitely miss Mikey,” Meis said of the California native who was lost to graduation. “He was a great player to be around. He always brought a great element to the field that not a lot of people can with his physicality.”
Meis is 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, while Touzinsky went 6-2, 215. Touzinsky wore No. 47, while Meis wears No. 46.
With similar stature and playing style, the two linebackers would have been very hard to tell apart if it weren’t for Touzinsky’s lime green gloves and shoes.
“He had a little more pizazz,” Meis said with a laugh. “Now we have (Butte High graduate) Drew Schleeman stepping up. He’s doing really well, and I’m excited for him. He was my backup last year. Now he’s going to start at Will backer. He’s doing really well.”
Meis registered 66 tackles (31 solo and 35 assisted) during his freshman season. As a sophomore, Meis got in on 63 tackles (30 solo and 33 assisted).
Last season, Meis really blossomed. He registered 84 tackles (61 solo), tallied 6 sacks and 14 1/2 tackles for loss. His tackles for loss resulted in 95 yards — nearly the length of the full football field — for Oredigger opponents.
Meis, who will graduate with a mechanical engineering degree in December, registered 17 tackles in one game alone. That came as Tech gave eventual NAIA national champion Southern Oregon a run for its money on the last week of the regular season on the Bob Green Field.
“That was my best game,” Meis said. “It was nice to go out with a bang.”
Basically, Meis’ three seasons for the Orediggers is exactly what Tech head coach Chuck Morrell was hoping for when he announced the signing of Meis on Feb. 1, 2011.
For the Orediggers it was a major coup to sign such a talent out of the backyard of Carroll College coach Mike Van Diest. It was the first major victory for Morrell with the Orediggers.
“It was a close call,” Meis said of deciding between Tech and Carroll, the two arch-rivals. “Living in Helena you grow up liking Carroll. Van Diest, I go to church with him, so I know he’s a good guy. And his kids went to school with me.”
Meis is looking for the Orediggers to bounce back for his senior season. He’s tasted success as a Frontier Champion, and he thinks his team has what it takes to contend for that again.
“Back when I was a freshman there were so many leaders out there,” Meis said of the Oredigger defense. “I think we have the same amount of leadership this year as well.”
Meis, who describes himself as a “lead-by-example-type guy,” said he sees good things coming from the Oredigger offense, too.
Tech added MSU transfer Quinn McQueary at quarterback. The Orediggers also return Dawson Reardon, who saw time behind center in an injury-riddled 2014 season.
“I don’t blame Dawson,” Meis said of last year’s struggle. “He was a freshman quarterback playing last year. He got banged up and everything. I’m glad to have a returning quarterback. The past couple of years, ever since (Nick) Baker left, it’s been a quarterback problem.”
Baker left the team on the eve of the 2013 season to focus on graduate school, and the quarterback position has been a revolving door because of injury and ineffectiveness.
Ted Schlafke, who was the successful offensive coordinator for the Orediggers in 2011 and 2012, also left the team to become the pass game coordinator at Western Illinois University before the 2013 season.
Pete Sterbick is the third offensive coordinator Tech has had under Morrell since 2011. He is back for his second season. The last time the Orediggers had an offensive coordinator last until his second season, the Orediggers won the Frontier Conference.
“Now we’ve got a returning coordinator and a returning quarterback. It’s exciting,” Meis said. “Sterbeck, he brings in a lot of neat plays. They get us every once in a while on the defense.”
Meis, though, doesn’t focus a whole lot on the Tech quarterback competition between Reardon and McQueary. He already has enough on his plate.
“I mostly do my job,” he said. “I let the offense worry about their own thing and do what the coaches tell us to do on defense. Mostly, we’re figuring out who’s going to be our starting safeties.”
Morrell says every job is up for grabs, and the depth chart will be updated daily. While the coach hints that Meis’ job is 100 percent secure, the linebacker won’t take that for granted. Not even for one practice.
“You always have to be trying your best out there,” Meis said. “That’s what I always try to do. I don’t think I’m going to be losing my spot, but you can’t be too safe.”
The Orediggers open the season Sept. 5 at MSU-Northern in Havre, and these Orediggers have high expectations for themselves.
Last year’s high expectations came crashing down with a crushing season-opening loss against Montana Western in Dillon.
Meis said the Orediggers learned from their mistakes last year.
And if the Orediggers don’t start out quickly on the Hi-Line in the opener, the team can simply heed the words of their senior linebacker whose career started in embarrassing fashion.
“You get up from your hit,” Meis said. “You learn your mistake, and you make sure you don’t do it again.”