Tech’s Waldman has reasons to smile

You’ll have to excuse Mike Waldman if he has an extra spring in his step these days. He’s got lots of reasons to be happy.

For starters, Waldman is a starting defensive end on the playoff-bound Montana Tech football team.

The No. 14-ranked Orediggers play No. 3 Morningside Saturday in Sioux City, Iowa.

It is Tech’s first playoff appearance since 2005, when Waldman was a freshman in high school.

“We feel a lot better about ourselves,” Waldman says. “I don’t want to say we’re cocky. We’ve just a lot more self confidence.”

Waldman is a major reason why the Orediggers are so giddy. The Oredigger junior has four and a half sacks to go along with 4.3 tackles per game for Tech’s opportunistic defense. Waldman also ranks No. 5 in the Frontier Conference with 11.5 tackles for a loss.

“Going to practice is a lot easier because the coaches aren’t mad, and works its way down to us,” Waldman says of the 2012 Tech turnaround that saw Tech go from 3-8 to 8-2 and co-champions of the Conference. “If they’re in a good mood, we’re in a good mood.”

Another reason Waldman is in such a good mood is the success of the Butte High football team.

The 2009 Butte High graduate can only imagine what the current Bulldogs are going through as they prepare to face the Bozeman Hawks in Friday’s Class AA State championship game, which will be played at Naranche Stadium.

“At Butte High we didn’t have very much success, so I’m excited,” says Waldman, who played for the Bulldogs during coach Arie Grey’s first season of 2008. Butte High went 1-9 that season.

“It wasn’t very fun,” Waldman says of the losing.

Four years later, and Waldman is purple with envy.

He says it’s bitter sweet that he’ll be out of town as Butte High plays for its first state title since 1991.

“I’m definitely going to be on the phone trying to follow them,” Waldman says. “I’m going to bring my laptop. I’m going to try my best to stay on top of that. I’m excited about it.

“I’m sure coach (Chris) Alexander — me and him are really close — will have the updates right away. He’s all about Butte High football too.”

Waldman isn’t afraid to show off his Bulldog colors, even if they are similar to those worn by Tech’s arch rival, Carroll College.

“I wear Bulldogs stuff all the time,” Waldman says. “Players give me (guff) about it because it’s purple, but I still bleed that purple.”

Of course, he also all in for the Orediggers.

“I’m kind of jealous. I wish I could have played there,” Waldman says of Naranche Stadium. “The surroundings is awesome. It kind of sucks that we can’t watch them, but we’ve got our own stuff to take care of.”

Saturday will be Waldman’s first playoff game at any level. He says he’s ready because the Orediggers have been playing tough competition in the Frontier Conference every week.

“It’s a tough conference, that’s for sure. I’ve know that my whole life, growing up here and watching games,” Waldman says. “These teams are no joke, every single one of them. If you take them lightly they’ll tear you apart. We have to be mentally tough every single week. I think that’s what’s helping us out for the playoffs. It got us ready.”

The Orediggers head into the playoffs coming off their first loss since Sept. 1. They fell 46-28 at Southern Oregon, the team they shared the conference title with.

Waldman says that loss is in the past. “We forgot about it right after the game,” he says.

The 879-mile ride home wasn’t exactly happy for the Orediggers.

But it didn’t take Waldman and the Orediggers long to get that spring back in their step and ready to roll for the second season.

“It’s just a different mindset, going back to 1-0,” Waldman says. “From week to week we have the same mode of operation, especially defensively. Coach (Chuck) Morrell puts us in great position. Scheme wise, he puts us in the best position that we can be in. Us as players, we just have to go out there and execute it and get it done.”