BOZEMAN, Montana — The mounting myth of Troy Andersen has continued growing around Big Sky Country the last three years. The Montana State junior is now turning heads in Big XII country as well.
“Troy Andersen is kind of the modern-day hero in my opinion,” Texas Tech head coach Matt Wells said in his opening statement of his press conference earlier this week as his team prepares to open its 2019 season against Montana State in Lubbock on Saturday. “A true two-way player. I’ll say it in Big XII country here.: He’s like the mountain version of (former Kansas State offensive Swiss Army Knife) Colin Klein. Big, strong, athletic…but Colin didn’t play linebacker. This guy will play both ways, a lot.”
The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder from Dillon, Montana has not played both ways “a lot” in the same game during his already illustrious career. But he has played on both sides of the ball in just two seasons in to a career that is flying by.
As a freshman, Andersen rushed for 515 yards and five touchdowns while also playing 10 and sometimes as many as 20 plays a game defensively. He earned Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year honors in 2017.
Last season, Andersen accomplished an even more unorthodox feat. Instead of taking over as Montana State’s starting Sam linebacker, he instead beat out a pair of highly regarded players recruited to play quarterback to earn Montana State’s starting spot under center. Although he played the position unlike any player in the country, his production was undeniable. He rushed for a Big Sky single-season rushing record for quarterbacks of 1,421 yards and set a Montana State single-season record with 21 rushing touchdowns.
“Haven’t seen many guys like him. We’ve done it at Utah State with some of our players but they were linebackers playing running back,” Wells said. “Not so much quarterback.
“Troy is a talented guy. Just by watching on tape, not knowing him, not ever meeting him, I think I’d like to coach him. He’s tough, physical, a leader for sure. He’s a very team-oriented player playing both sides of the ball. I bet he’s a tremendous leader.”
Andersen suffered a hand injury that required surgery in MSU’s season-opening 26-23 win. But not before rushing for 146 yards to lead the Bobcats to a crucial victory. He did not start at quarterback against South Dakota State but notched a sack as a linebacker despite wearing a cast/wrap in his hand. He did not start at quarterback against Wagner but he still ripped off a 59-yard touchdown as a running back.
“His athleticism – I think I’ve said this a number of times – I think he’s on par with some of the best all-around football players I’ve had the opportunity to coach and that is some good guys,” Montana State fourth-year head coach Jeff Choate said. “That’s guys like Shaq Thomson who won the Ronnie Lott Award (at Washington) and was a first round draft pick, Dante Fowler Jr. (at Florida) who can play just about anywhere on the field, Doug Martin (at Boise State) who was another first round draft pick who played at times offense and defense at Boise State.
“Troy is that type of athlete and that’s very unique.”
Although Andersen’s accomplishments are already memorable, he will make the first official start of his career defensively on Saturday at Texas Tech. The spring following his breakout freshman year, Andersen played defensive exclusively. Then he ended up as a unanimous first-team All-Big Sky signal caller.
This past spring, Andersen did not practice at all. He missed the entire session after having off-season shoulder surgery. Still, first-year defensive coordinator Kane Ioane praised first-year linebackers coach Bobby Daly for “keeping Andersen mentally involved” even if he wasn’t taking physical reps.
“Athletically he does some amazing things, but what I’ve really been impressed by with him is how detailed of an individual he is,” Daly said. “There’s a lot of things that I coach other guys up on and he picks it up. I don’t necessarily have to coach him through every rep.
“He just adds length, speed, athleticism, smarts … you go down the list of characteristics you want out of a football player on the defensive side of the ball and he checks all those boxes.”
During MSU’s recently completed fall camp, Andersen played offense on the days the Bobcats practiced in the stadium where they put an emphasis on offense. He practiced with the defense on the days MSU put an emphasis on that side of the ball.
“I think the thing that makes Troy so special is not just his physical gifts but his ability to compartmentalize the information,” Choate said. “He’s so intelligent and he really doesn’t have difficulty processing information. He’s a one-rep guy, which is unique.”
Early on in Montana State’s first fall camp practice at Bobcat Stadium, Choate spent a few periods working individually with some of the top defensive linemen on his roster. Choate, the former defensive line coach at Florida and Washington, gave nuanced tips to polished pass rushers like senior Derek Marks and junior Amandre Williams. Choate continued working with gifted senior Bryce Sterk, the Big Sky’s leader in sacks and tackles for loss last season despite still mastering the fundamentals of the position. And Choate worked with Andersen.
On that particular day, Andersen began the drill set as the least experienced and rawest pass rusher in the group. Within 15 minutes, he looked like he fit in.
“Did you notice how quickly he started to master it?” Choate said. “Most guys are reps guys. They are going to need eight, 10, 12 reps of something to even look remotely fluid doing it. He’s one or two. He’s got it. That is just a very unique characteristic. That’s why he can play multiple positions. He doesn’t need all those reps at one thing.”
Andersen has cut his teeth against a pair of returning starters at offensive tackle when Andersen is coming off the edge, including senior captain Mitch Brott. The preseason All-American enters his final campaign with 35 consecutive starts between the two tackle positions under his belt. Brott has been impressed with Andersen’s abilities defensively.
“He’s picking it up still and it’s definitely a challenge for him but I believe that guy can do anything,” Brott said. “Anything. You could put him at O-line and he’d end up starting somehow. He has tons of room to grow but he’s working so hard. Hat’s off to him, man. He’s a great guy who does everything right and does whatever is best for the team.”
During his standout career at Beaverhead County High, Andersen led the Beavers to a third Class A state title in four years as a senior quarterback and safety in 2016. As the point guard for the basketball team, he helped Dillon avenge a 2015 title game loss by winning the 2016 state title on the hardwood. And in track and field, Andersen swept the 100 meters and the 200 meters at the Class A state track meet.
When addressing the media, the humble, unassuming star frequently references the way he was raised and the influence growing up in rural Montana had on his life. On MSU’s media day, Andersen told a story about the traveling youth basketball team he played on. The team used to have line changes, subbing in five players at a time to emphasize the roles of each player on the team.
“He’s just a freak athlete,” said MSU redshirt freshman Nolan Askelson, a two-way starter at quarterback and middle linebacker on Billings Senior’s 2017 Class AA state championship team and now Montana State’s slated starter at middle linebacker. “He’s something else, man. The craziest thing to me is how humble that kid is. He never gets a big head. He’s always still working harder than anybody. I think he truly represents what a Bobcat is.”
Andersen’s potential is unseen. He is only now scratching the surface of what he could become, particularly if outside linebacker is his perfect position. And perhaps the most striking part of Andersen’s compelling career is the second half begins on Saturday.
“I would hope we sell out a lot of games because they are only going to get to see him for two more years,” Choate said. “It’s kind of like when we had (All-Big Sky men’s basketball star) Tyler Hall here. You are looking at one of the most prolific scorers in Big Sky history and you have a chance to see him a couple nights a week, you better show up because he’s not going to be there forever. Troy is that kind of player. He transcends the game.”
Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.