The cat’s out of the bag so to speak. In 2011, the Montana State University-Northern football team was really, really good on offense.
And as the 2012 season gets closer and closer, the Lights are hoping they click even better on the offensive side of the ball than they did last year when they broke a ton of school records, saw Derek Lear earn first-team all-conference honors at quarterback, while Stephen Silva set the single-season rushing and all-time rushing records at Northern.
And those were just a few of a highlights in a year Lights’ fans who love offense will never forget.
And with so much offensive personnel back for 2012, the train is expected to keep rolling.
“We do return a lot of starters and a lot of really skill position players on offense,” Northern head coach Mark Samson said. “And really, we aren’t a young football team on offense anymore. We’ve got great leadership there with so many guys who have been in our program and who have played together for a while now. So we feel pretty good about where our offense is at this fall.”
Lear is the catalyst and everybody knows it. He led the Frontier Conference in passing a year ago, throwing for 2,591 yards and 19 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. He was among the NAIA leaders in passer rating and was also second in the Frontier to three-time all-american Chris Ware in total offense. And he’s now just a junior.
“You can sow Derek has gotten better, even after having such a tremendous year last year,” Samson said. “He has a lot of confidence, there isn’t anything about this offense that he doesn’t understand and he has the respect of all the guys. He’s the unquestioned leader in the huddle out there.
“Derek is a already a great quarterback in this league,” Samson said. “I’m really proud of how far he’s come and how hard he’s worked. And he’s going to get even better. He also has great skill guys and a great linemen around him. And together, they all make this offense go. But he knows, and we know, we are going to go as Derek goes.”
Lear has some great targets to throw to, including speedster Kyle Johnston, a first-team all-conference performer in 2011. Also back are veteran wideouts Brandon O’Brien and Orin Johnson, both who are just juniors, but both who have started for the Lights for a long, long time already. Junior Mick Miller and sophomore Brandt Montelius are also big threats in the passing game, while the speedy David Wilson has moved to wide receiver and is doing well, and true freshman Dylan Woodhall has been most impressive in camp.
The Lights have depth at tight end too. Brian Torgerson (6-3, 235) is already an NAIA preseason all-american and John Jansen has been outstanding in fall camp, as has Nick Louma.
Then there’s Silva. In just three seasons at MSU-N, Silva leads the all-time rushing list with 2,042 rushing yards, and he broke Justin Moe’s single season record last fall with 1,105 yards, to go along with seven scores. Silva had the benefit of a great and veteran offensive line to help him out last season, and four of those starters are now gone.
However, according to Samson, it looks like the Lights may have reloaded the line, not just rebuilt it.
“I think the line has come together pretty well,” Samson said. “We feel really good about the five guys we’re slated to start up there, and what’s even better is the depth we have there. We have some really solid backups too and I would feel fine with several of those guys having to step in and play.”
Two-time all-conference and preseason all-american Brock Hyder (6-1, 265) is now a four-year starter and one of those most veteran offensive linemen the Lights have ever had. Hyder will start at one guard position, while Rostyn Pace (6-3, 275) steps in to start at the other. Pace has experience, while the tackles are brand new, but good ones. Sophomore Dylan Murphy (6-6, 295) has really come on strong and will start at one tackle, while transfer Patrick Kiser (6-3, 285) anchors the other side. Zach Bangert (6-2, 270) moves up to take over the center position from two-time all-conference standout Jorge Magana.
“Zach Bangert is going to be a really good player in this league, and I think Patrick Kiser has will do the same,” Samson, who coaches the line said. “Brock is already a great player and we have a lot of guys on the line, including some freshmen, who’ve come in here and shown a lot of promise. It’s hard to build depth on the o-line at this level, but I think we’re getting there and we feel really good about that group going into the season.”
And Northern’s depth on offense will be a huge asset.
Senior Justin Montelius is a veteran running back who gives the Lights a great change of pace in the backfield. Freshman Zach McKinley also shows a lot of promise at tailback, while Travis Dean will once again back up Lear. Dean suffered a knee injury last spring, but is getting close to being recovered.
And with so many weapons, it looks like the Lights have the opportunity to be even more explosive and more dynamic than they were a year ago, and that’s saying something since Northern averaged 453 yards and 27 points per game a season ago.
“We are really confident in what we do offensively,” Samson said. “And we can do a lot of different things. We are pretty versatile and pretty balanced, so the hope is, we’re a pretty tough team to game plan for.
“But we also have to make sure we do the basic things well every game too,” he continued. “We have to finish drives, make plays to move the chains, we can’t turn the ball over and we have to limit our mistakes and penalties. We have a lot of weapons, a lot of really good players on offense, but we still have to make sure we take care of the fundamentals. We have to continue to get better and play smart football each week.”
Lights vs Saints
The Montana State University-Northern football team will host No. 2 Carroll College on Friday night at Blue Pony Stadium. See full pre game coverage in Friday's Havre Daily News, including an in-depth game preview, what to watch for, and the Game Day Issue.