Game Day Feature: The big boys are back together again
Northern senior Matt Cervenka (right) is one of five returning starters on the Lights' offensive line.
There are a lot of reasons why the coaches, the players and everyone involved with the Montana State University-Northern football team are optimistic heading into this weekend's season-opening game with UM-Western.
One of the many reasons just happens to be a BIG one.
Northern returns all five starters from a year ago on the offensive line – a line which boasted to all-conference performers, and overall has four seniors, three of which have earned all-conference honors at one point or another. That's a reason for optimism.
But according to eighth-year head coach Mark Samson, it isn't just that all five returnees started for the Lights last season, or the fact that Northern boasts one of the biggest and best o-line's in the Frontier Conference this season, it has just as much to do with the players themselves.
"The thing about this group of linemen is, they are all very good football players, but they are also very smart football players," Samson said. "There is a lot that goes into playing on the line and being effective and every one of these guys has worked their tails off to be better, to be not just good football players and good athletes, but also smart football players. And I believe they are going to lead our offense to big things this season."
The line boasts seniors Zeb Olson (6-5, 295, T), Joe Pittman (6-4, 320, T), Matt Cervenka (6-5, 290) and Jorge Magana (6-2, 270, C) as well as junior Brock Hyder (6-1, 265, G, G). Together the group has more than two years of starting experience between them, and they were together for seven games a year ago. Olson was lost to injury for a period of time last year, but for the most part, this group has gelled in ways most lines can only dream of. Behind the starters, Northern is also building depth with some outstanding young players.
And building depth comes from having great leaders and veteran players and the Lights certainly have all of that on the offensive line. They are a cohesive unit and the younger linemen are learning how to be the same because of the veteran group.
"The biggest thing I think is that we've been together a while now," Olson a former Malta prep standout said. "We've got four seniors and Brock, who is a junior has been playing on the line since he was a freshman.
"We've played together a lot and that really makes a difference," he added. "Being together and playing together for a while now, we all have learned to trust each other, to work together and we trust that each guy is going to get the job done. I think you have to have that to be a good offensive line."
And good the Lights are. Magana and Cervenka earned all-conference honors a year ago and Olson earned the same honor after his sophomore campaign. Last season, sophomore running back Stephen Silva rushed for a career-high 800-plus years and the Lights were extremely solid in pass protection and goal line situations – all things that require a very stout and smart offensive line. In reality, Northern's line was so solid a year ago that all five were certainly honors candidates, and together, the group has given Northern's already explosive offense even more confidence.
"We are very excited about the potential of our o-line this fall," MSU-N offensive coordinator Kyle Samson said. "We have all five starters returning and to have that experience up front will be crucial to our success as an offense.
"If we are going to be good as an offense it all starts up front in the trenches and I believe we have the potential to be pretty good up front if we continue to improve each day," he continued. This is a great group of guys who are very talented but more importantly they have the work ethic and competitive drive to be great. I am very proud to have coached all of these guys for the past couple years and look forward to seeing them compete together this fall."
And the younger Samson isn't the only one who is proud to see how far his offensive linemen have come. With a great leader at center in Magana, to veterans on the interior like Olson and Hyder, as well as the size and strength of Cervenka and Pittman, the Lights should be primed for big things in the trenches this season.
"I think every one of these guys also possess a lot of leadership," Mark Samson said. "I think you have to have certain intangibles to be successful at that position and all five of those guys possess those intangibles. They are smart, they know what they are supposed to do, they know their assignments, and they just consistently get the job done.
"Everyone is pretty excited about this season," Olson said. "Everyone has been working hard to get better. Everybody is just excited and ready to go. I think everybody is ready for the season to get started on Saturday."