Mike Waldman missed the boat when it came to being immortalized with the Butte High football team.
He was born four years too early to be part of the magical state title run of 2012.
When it comes to his career at Montana Tech, though, Waldman just might have timed it perfectly.
The 6-foot-3, 245-pound senior defensive end heads into the 2013 season with the Orediggers with big-time expectations — from himself and his coaches.
“I’m looking for him to have All-American status this year,” Tech defensive line coach Chris Alexander says. “That’s what I told him.”
After a career void of sustained team success, Waldman, No. 90, who can be seen on the Oredigger team poster around town, got a taste of glory last year when he helped lead the Orediggers to the Frontier Conference title and a spot in the NAIA playoffs.
“Throughout my career I really didn’t experience a lot of winning teams,” Waldman says. “Once I finally got on one, you want that feeling all the time. You don’t want anything less than that. It’s just an awesome feeling.”
This year, Waldman says the Orediggers are ready to take the next step.
“Definitely the national championship is our big, main goal,” he says. “But we have to take it week by week, just like coach Morrell says, 1 and 0. Every quarter turns into a half, every half turns into a full game, every full game turns into half a season and we just go on from there.”
Waldman points to last year’s season-opening loss at home to Eastern Oregon as proof that every game counts.
“If you look ahead, it tends to bite you in the butt,” Waldman says. “When you lose, it messes up your season. We lost to Eastern Oregon the first game of the season. If we would have not lost to them, we would of had a home playoff game. That would have made a huge difference.”
The 2009 Butte High graduate is looking forward to such a big game in the Mining City. Waldman didn’t get to attend the state title game last year because the Orediggers were in Iowa getting ready for their playoff game in Morningside. Tech lost that game 40-35.
“I was so happy for them,” Waldman says of the Bulldogs. “At the same time, I wanted to be there. That would have been awesome.”
Having a team come to Butte to play on the new artificial turf on Bob Green Field for the playoffs is not only a dream of Waldman’s. It is also key to the national championship goal.
“Butte would go crazy if we got a home playoff game,” Waldman says. “That’s one thing I want really bad. I want to play in a playoff game here in Butte.”
At Butte High, Waldman never really got to play in a big game. He was too early for the move back to Storied Naranche Stadium, so his home games were played at East Middle School.
In 2008, Waldman’s senior season was also the year Arey Grey took over the Butte High program. The Bulldogs went 1-9, and Waldman played a position he didn’t really like.
After staring on the defensive line for the Bulldogs, Waldman was moved to offensive tackle for Butte High. He saw some time on defense, but not enough.
Waldman feels his lack of time on defense hurt his chances of catching the eyes of college coaches.
“I did it because the team comes first,” Waldman says. “It was frustrating because I wanted to show people I can honestly play defensive line. I never really got that shot, but it worked out in the end.”
The losing and getting caught in the transition to a new coaching staff wasn’t easy on Waldman. His love of football kept him going.
“It was tough,” he says. ” I enjoyed it, but it was probably the toughest year of my life with football.”
Waldman ended up walking on at Montana Tech, and Waldman says that lack of scholarship his first year ended up being a good thing.
“You kind of take pride in those situations,” Waldman says. “It just makes you work that much harder, and you have to prove yourself. Once you do get that scholarship it’s an awesome feeling that you actually accomplished something.”
Then-coach Bob Green awarded Waldman a scholarship after spring drills in 2010.
“He said I earned it,” Waldman says.
Waldman first saw time as a sophomore in 2010 when defensive lineman Stephan Burns went down with a season-ending knee injury. Burns, a Butte Central graduate, was an All-American in 2009.
“It was a tough situation,” Waldman says of seeing his teammate go down. “But at the same time I started playing quite a bit. That’s when I really started proving myself, in game-time situations.”
In 2011, Chuck Morrell took over as head coach, and Waldman excelled, racking up 44 tackles and five sacks.
Alexander, a fellow Butte High graduate, joined the coaching staff the next season. He says Waldman’s development over that time is obvious.
“When I first got here he had a lot of fundamental stuff to work on,” Alexander says. “As the year went on last year he got better. As the spring progressed he got even better with that. He knows what he has to do. He knows what type of player he is right now. When I first got here he didn’t know what type of player he was.”
Last season, Alexander says teams schemed to stay away from Waldman, helping fellow defensive lineman Jacob Workman and Logan Sims put up big numbers.
Waldman also put up some pretty big numbers. He started all 11 games, helping Tech go 8-3. He recorded 48 tackles (24 solo and 24 assisted) and ranked sixth in the Frontier Conference with 11 and a half tackles for a loss. He also recorded four and a half sacks on his way to first-team All-Conference honors.
Alexander says Waldman’s work ethic and attitude are key to his success.
“He’s a very coachable kid,” Alexander says. “He learns on the go and changes it right away if he is doing something wrong. He’s a great kid to work with.
“He hates when he has a bad practice,” Alexander adds. “That’s what I like about him. If he has a bad practice, he knows it and he goes into film and fixes it. When I got here there were probably 10 or 15 things that I wanted to work with him on him to make him a better player. He’s exceeded that and then some.”
Grey says Waldman always had those characteristics.
“What an amazing person,” Grey says. “He’s a great leader and a phenomenal worker.”
Waldman is on pace to graduate in business in May. He says he is unsure of future plans. Grad school in Missoula is an option. So is finding a job in his field.
One thing Waldman knows, though, is he will be involved in football for as long as he can.
“I’ve been talking to coach Alexander and I still have to talk to coach Morrell about it,” Waldman says. “My plan is to help coach in spring ball and move on from there. I want to go and try to coach high school football.”
That will help Waldman be part of big games for years to come.
“That’s something I want to do,” Waldman says. “I want to be around football my entire life. It’s the sport I fell in love with. It’s the reason I came to college.”