BUTTE — Tyler Sanders cuts an imposing figure.
Standing at 6-foot-2 and weighing in at 275, the Montana Tech defensive lineman has broad shoulders and a slight grin on his bearded face.
The 2017 season was still weeks away, yet the Helena High product, now a vital component to the Oredigger team, already seemed to be in his element.
A four-year starter, Sanders is coming off another great season. He was a First Tteam all-conference pick in 2016, for the second year in a row, after registering 33 tackles (six for losses) and three sacks.
“I think he’s one of the best defensive linemen in the league,” Tech head coach Chuck Morrell said. “He’s a consistent player and an explosive player.”
As good as Sanders is, he’s far from being the only defensive lineman with a bit of talent in the group.
Tech allowed just 124.3 rushing yards per game last year, second best in the Frontier Conference. It also had the best total defense in the conference and tallied 33 sacks — top 15 of the entire nation.
One of the biggest keys for the Orediggers success is rotating the defensive linemen heavily in order to keep the group fresh. It’s obviously paid dividends and has given its players a tremendous bank of experience.
The stars, of course, still play the biggest number of snaps but there are no shortage of bodies for Tech to put into the game.
“We’re an older, veteran crew,” Sanders said. “Our 1’s, 2’s and 3’s are right there. We have great depth on the line. It’s nice to have fresh bodies coming in there whenever we need a blow.
“It plays a large role in our success.”
All six of the defensive lineman on the team’s two-deep depth chart are upperclassmen with seniors Sanders and Levi Dawes as the elder statesmen. Dawes saw action in nine games last season, tallying three sacks — tied for third-most on the team.
Juniors Chance Hansen and Brock Beede are the other two listed starters on the squad, though none of them seem to take their positions on the depth chart to heart. They’re a close-knit, humble group with a critical job on the team.
There isn’t any room for ego.
“We’re a family. That’s the biggest thing out here,” Dawes said. “We’ve had great families over the past couple years and we just want to keep building on that. Team chemistry is huge.”
As one of the older groupings of players on the team, the defensive linemen see themselves as leaders of the team. They’re not always the most vocal about it, but they don’t have to be. Their play speaks for them.
It’s a huge relief to the coaching staff to have such a talented and close group up front. The coaches know exactly what they’re going to get every play from them.
Getting consistent pressure on the quarterback makes the lives of the rest of the defensive players that much easier. Tech has put together some tremendous secondaries over the past couple years.
Tech had 11 interceptions last year and it all starts with harassing opposing quarterbacks.
“It’s just a great, great group of players,” Morrell said. “You just go up and down the list and there’s a lot of experience there. That plays into the trust factor as well, we have tremendous trust in those guys because they’ve seen it all.”
In order to once again win their third straight conference title, the Orediggers will need to get every bit they can out of the group.
Sanders was involved in four tackles during the Orediggers' Aug. 31 win over Carroll College, with one for lost yardage. Beede was credited with 1.5 tackles for loss, of his four registered tackles and junior Chance Hansen assisted on six stops.
Beede — who stands at a towering 6-5 — seems to be set for another great year after bursting on to the scene with five sacks last season. There is a lot to like about this group and very well could be what helps decide the Frontier Conference champion this season.
“I’m just super-excited to start hitting someone other than our own teammates,” Beede said as the team prepped for its season opener against Carroll College. “We’re a pretty tough group of guys out there.”