It seems like it has been ages since Montana State last played a football game.
It’s been even longer since Troy Andersen has suited up for the Bobcats.
And it will be awhile still.
MSU’s two-way superstar has made more headlines than any player in the Big Sky Conference over the last three seasons. From breaking out as a running back and linebacker on the way to winning the league’s Freshman of the Year honor in 2017 to switching to quarterback and guiding the Bobcats to the playoffs while rushing for more yards than any signal caller in league history to blossoming into one of the best edge players in the league, a first-team all-conference selection as a junior last season, Andersen’s diverse talents are peerless.
“Troy Andersen in my personal opinion, having coached Division I football for over 20 years and having coached 31 first or second-round draft picks, he’s as talented a football player as I have ever coached,” Montana State fifth-year head coach Jeff Choate said in June.
“Throw (Carolina Panthers linebacker) Shaq Thompson in the mix who was a two-way player, (Atlanta Falcons defensive end) Dante Fowler Jr., you go through the list. (Former New England Patriots linebacker) Shea McClellin, (former Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back) Doug Martin, Troy is as talented a football player as I have ever coached. If anything, he’s underrated. I think that’s how deep our team is.”
That depth was on full display during the stretch run of last season. Andersen suffered what Choate called “a lower extremity injury” in the second half of the UC Davis game, a 27-17 road victory in MSU’s second-to-last game of the season.
The following week, Montana State ran the ball relentlessly and dominated rival Montana on both sides of the ball. And the 48-14 win came with Andersen in street clothes.
While Montana head coach Bobby Hauck implied Andersen’s non-presence in the lineup actually provided an advantage for MSU because his Griz prepared for an offensive attack featuring Andersen, the resounding victory served a galvanizing statement for the Bobcats. MSU pounded its nationally ranked rival without one of its captains and carried that momentum into the playoffs.
The Bobcats had an inside track on their second straight playoff spot entering the Cat-Griz game a year ago. Choate’s initial plan with Andersen was to sit him for Griz game and hope he could heal during the bye week that the Bobcats earned in the first round of the FCS playoffs.
“But the injury didn’t respond the way we wanted it to,” Choate said. “So he sat out the Albany game (a 47-21 victory in the second round of the FCS Playoffs). We got it going prior to the Austin Peay game. He had a set back, didn’t play (Montana State posted a 24-10 victory to advance to the FCS Final Four for the first time since 1984).”
Andersen dressed and warmed up for MSU’s second straight playoff matchup at No. 1 North Dakota State.
“And he wanted to go,” Choate said. “I just didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do at that point in time.”
The best Bobcat season in a generation ended abruptly as NDSU posted a 42-14 victory, one of 16 victories during an undefeated season that helped the Bison win their eighth national title since 2011. The year prior, MSU lost 52-10 to NDSU in Fargo despite 129 rushing yards and a 51-yard touchdown from Andersen that served as MSU’s only TD.
“Troy Andersen wanted to play against the University of Montana, Troy Andersen wanted to play against Albany, Troy Andersen wanted to play against Austin Peay, Troy Andersen wanted to play against North Dakota State,” Choate said.
“We do the right things for our kids based on the contributions we have from our medical staff and based on watching and observing their ability to go out and protect themselves and compete at a high level.”
The end of last season was only the beginning of Andersen’s injury opus. The initial diagnosis the MSU coaching staff got from team physicians indicated that Andersen’s injury would “heal with time” and did not initially require surgery.
But when Montana State began winter conditioning, the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder suffered another setback. The native of Dillon went to Vail, Colorado to get a second opinion and it was determined that he in fact needed surgery.
That’s when everything turned.
“This is how messed up this has been for Troy Andersen,” Choate said. “He goes through this basically two-month period of time thinking he can give it time and let him heal but it doesn’t heal.
“So we send him to Vail and literally, he and his mom are driving up from Denver to Vail and an avalanche closes the highway. They turn around, come back to Bozeman.
“About two weeks later, we get him set up with a doctor in Minnesota who’s a specialist with his issue. He goes to Minnesota, we finally have some closure and we determine its finally going to require surgery. We have the surgery set up for a Thursday. Troy comes in and says he’s going to miss the ‘Habitat for Humanity’ trip we had scheduled for 13 of our guys because he has a chance to go to Hawaii with his family for spring break.”
“So he goes to Hawaii not knowing what’s coming around the corner or what Covid will do. He gets back from spring break, the pandemic hits full force and the surgery is delayed. So a surgery that was supposed to happen in March didn’t happen until May. He might’ve missed summer workouts and maybe some preseason stuff.”
Instead, in June Montana State announced Andersen would redshirt for the 2020 season. When the Big Sky announced it was pushing its season back to at least the spring of 2021 — Sacramento State was the first team to opt out of playing next spring, the Hornets announced on Thursday — the Bobcats stuck with the decision. Andersen will not participate in any football activities until next fall.
Choate has talked several times about the opportunities that a spring season that also represents no lost eligibility for any player could have on player development. For example, if Big Sky teams play between a six and eight-game schedule in the spring, any freshman or underclassmen could play in every spring contest AND play in as many as four games in the fall of 2021 before losing a year of eligibility.
If every senior on the MSU roster stayed until next fall, Andersen would have 41 other classmates in his senior class. Whatever the next months may hold in terms of official contests, Choate said the Bobcats are excited to get a fully healthy Andersen back in the fold. But they are willing to wait to unleash him on the Big Sky for one final season.
“If you take the best player and throw him out — that quarterback from North Dakota State is a helluva player but he can’t play linebacker the way Troy Andersen can,” Choate said. “I truly believe Troy is the best player in the FCS. Sure, is it going to hurt for us to lose him? Yeah. Is it going to galvanize our team and put a bigger chip on our shoulder? You bet.”
Photos by Brooks Nuanez and Jason Bacaj. All Rights Reserved.