BUTTE — Daniel Van Dyke grew up in the shadow of the Montana Tech – Carroll College rivalry.
The junior Tech defensive back’s childhood home was just three blocks from Nelson Stadium and he remembers attending a huge number of Carroll games when he was younger. When he wasn’t able to go, the booming of the cannon every time the Saints scored echoed through the house.
When it came time to choose a college, however, he decided against the hometown team and signed with the Orediggers.
“My deciding factor was the education and Tech has such a good engineering program, one of the best in the country,” Van Dyke said. “For the amount of money you have to pay for it, it’s a no-brainer to come here.
“I thought it was an easy choice.”
He still gives credit where credit is due, calling the Saints “a great program” and has good memories of growing up there, but he had to make a huge decision.
A mechanical engineering major, Van Dyke was pretty set on coming to Tech as he got late into his high-school career. While he “didn’t think much of Tech” in his early years, as he got older, it became more obvious this was the path he needed to take.
It helps, of course, that head coach Chuck Morrell has the Orediggers playing winning football. Tech won the past two Frontier Conference titles and will be vying for a three-peat this season.
Carroll won six national championships between 2002 and 2010 — a huge selling point to recruits. The Fighting Saints, however, are just 8-12 over the past two seasons and have missed the playoffs both years.
Spurning the hometown team wasn’t easy for the five players on the Montana Tech roster who hail from Helena — Van Dyke, Will Hunthausen, Levi Dawes, Nicholas Argento and Tyler Saunders. All of them spent their high school days playing for Helena Capital.
“It’s a dream growing up as a little kid to play some football in college,” Van Dyke said. “Now you’re playing against the team you watched your entire life growing up, it’s surreal.”
Of the five players from Helena, four play on the defensive side of the ball. Senior defensive linemen Dawes and Sanders have been playing together for a long time and have produced tremendously for the Orediggers.
Sanders was First Team all-conference last season, while Dawes had a solid year, tallying 3.5 tackles for loss and three sacks.
Making the decision was a bit of a mixed bag for Sanders, who got to know Carroll’s offensive coordinator Nick Howlett quite well. Money and playing time were also things he factored into his decision and Montana Tech was able to offer him a bit more of both than the Saints.
“Getting to know him pretty well, it was pretty hard to call him up and let them know I was going to Tech,” Sanders said. “But I’m glad I made the right decision.”
Once the team hits the field, any sort of nostalgic feelings for the Saints go out the window. Sanders mentioned that in the days leading up to the game, he can always feel the jitters.
He’s not alone. This season’s opener is under the lights against Carroll, only adding to the mystique of the rivalry. It’s the first time since 2010 that Tech is opening on a Thursday and it will be the first game played at night against the Saints since 2011.
“It just doesn’t really feel real until you hit somebody and then it’s full speed,” Van Dyke said. “You have to get out of la la land and start playing. It’s definitely something you appreciate.”
In any rivalry, it’s critical to not get too high or to low and Montana Tech’s games with Carroll are no different. The team treats the game like any other contest it’ll play this year and with the tremendous amount of experience on the roster, a lot of the players have been in big games before.
Having players who have been around the rivalry for a long time is an advantage and helps keep the team levelheaded.
“You just have to come out and play football,” Dawes said. “Just remember the game plan, do what we do best, have fun, fly around with your brothers and enjoy the moment.”