(Editor’s note: story by Montana Sports Information)
MISSOULA – In his first year as a starter for the Montana defense, junior linebacker Dante Olson has been nothing short of superb for the Grizzlies as he’s worked his way to becoming the leading tackler in all of Division-I football.
As he inches closer to breaking the UM record for single-season tackles, Olson has been recognized nationally for his production by being added to the STATS FCS Buck Buchanan Award watch list – the prize given annually to the FCS Defensive Player of the Year – STATS announced Thursday.
Over the course of seven games this season, Olson has amassed 106 tackles including a 24-tackle game against Cal Poly and six games overall where he’s tallied double-digit takedowns.
With an average of 15.1 per game, he leads the Big Sky Conference by a wide margin in total tackles and currently has more takedowns than any player in FCS or FBS football this season.
“We’re happy for Dante. He’s had a terrific season so far, and I think this recognition is well deserved. If he continues to play like he has, I think he might be able to win the award,” said UM head coach Bobby Hauck. “It’s also a good thing for our whole team when one of us gets recognized on the national level.”
The junior from Medford, Ore., needs just 25 tackles over the next four regular-season games to break the school single-season record of 130 set by linebacker Kendrick Van Ackeren in 2015. He’s also now 71 tackles shy of breaking JC Sherritt’s Big Sky Conference record of 176 tackles in a season.
Olson’s 24 tackles against Cal Poly and his 19 stops against Portland State rank among the 10-best single-game performances in UM history, with 24 being the second-most any Grizzly has ever tallied.
For his efforts, Olson was named the ROOT Sports Big Sky Player of the Week three times in the first month of the season, and was named the STATS FCS National Player of the Week following the Drake game where he posted 16 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, two sacks, a forced fumble and a pass breakup.
Olson says he attributes his success to his teammates, and the defensive structure coordinator Kent Baer has in place, but knows there is more work to be done.
“It’s been a lot of fun playing in our defense and playing with the guys. It’s been a great ride so far,” says Olson.
“This is obviously a huge honor and a blessing, but it’s also motivation to keep working hard. We have four games left in the season, and we’ve got to take it week by week, and as a team come together and win those games and finish the season out strong.”
Despite 2018 being his first year as a starter, Olson has hauled in several awards during his time as a Grizzly. He was named the Defensive Scout team Player of the Year during his redshirt season in 2015, and was named the Hauck Family Special Teams Player of the Year in 2016 and 2017, in addition to being named second-team All-Big Sky on special teams last season as well.
As much as he is a menace to opposing offenses, off the field, Olson is equally as humble and hard-working.
As a management major in the University of Montana’s College of Business, Olson carries a 4.0 GPA and is a two-time Academic All-Big Sky Performer. Over the summer, he also began mentoring a class of third graders in an underprivileged area of Northern California as part of the No Excuses University program, encouraging kids to earn a college degree.
Olson now becomes the second UM player this season to earn his way onto the Buchanan Award Watch List this season, following fellow linebacker Josh Buss who was named to the list after receiving the Big Sky’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year award. Buss was also a finalist for the Buchanan Award after his junior season.
Together, Buss and Olson make a total of 14 players in Montana history who have been named to the Buchanan Award Watch List. But only two Grizzlies have ever taken home the top prize for a defensive player in FCS football.
Kroy Biermann was a two-time finalist for the Buchanan Award under Hauck in 2006 and 2007 and became UM’s first-ever winner following his senior season in ’07.
Tyrone Holmes was named the 2015 Buchanan Award winner following a senior season where he totaled a national-best 18 sacks.
Freshman safety Robby Hauck was also named to a national award watch list in recent weeks, becoming a candidate for the STATS FCS Jerry Rice Award, given annually to the national freshman of the year. Hauck is the second-leading tackler for the Griz this season and the third-leading tackler in the Big Sky with 64 stops.
A national panel of over 150 sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries will select the Buchanan Award and Rice Award winners following the regular season.
MORE ON OLSON
2018: Named ROOT Sports Big Sky Defensive Player of the week on 9/3 … Named College Sports Madness Big Sky Defensive Player of the week on 9/3 … Repeated as ROOT Sports Big Sky Player of the Week on 9/8 … Was named STATS FCS National Defensive Player of the Week on 9/8 as well …. Also repeated as College Sports Madness Big Sky Player of the Week… Named ROOT Sports Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week for a third time on 10/1 after posting 24 tackles against Cal Poly… In the first game of the 2018 season (UNI, 9/1), Olson led the Grizzly defense with 13 total tackles … Also recorded an interception which he returned 26 yards, a sack for a loss of 9 yards, one PBU and one QB hurry … Coming off a performance that earned him Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors the week before vs. UNI (9/1), Olson impressed yet again recording 16 tackles (career high), 2 sacks (career high), 3.5 TFL’s (career high), one forced fumble and one PBU … Continuing to terrorize opposing offenses, Olson once again impressed recorded 15 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PBU, and a QB hit against Sacramento State (9/22) … In another stand-out performance, Olson earned Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors for the 3rd time in 5 weeks putting up an unreal 24 total tackles (2nd best single-game tackling performance in UM history) vs. Cal Poly (9/29) … Olson continues to wreak havoc across the Big sky Conference as he lit up the stat sheet with 19 tackles, half a sack, 2 TFL’s and 2 forced fumbles vs. Portland State (10/6) … Dante is expected to be a leader and major contributor on defense and special teams in his remaining time as a Grizzly.
2017: Second Team All-Big Sky on Special Teams… Academic All-Big Sky … Hauck Family Special Teams Player of the Year … Recorded 38 tackles, 16 of them solo … Had 2 TFLs and one sack against Idaho State for a loss of seven yards … Blocked a kick against Northern Colorado … Logged QB hurries against Savannah State and Eastern Washington … Played in all 11 games for UM … Once again awarded the William (Robi) Robertson Memorial Athletic Scholarship at the annual Lindsay Awards Banquet
2016: Academic All-Big Sky… Hauck Family Special Teams Player of the Year … Olson played in 11 games as a redshirt freshman at linebacker … Recorded 29 tackles, seven of them solo … Had two tackles for loss for six yards, also recorded a sack … Had back to back games with seven tackles against Miss. Valley State and Sacramento State … Recorded both tackles for loss and also his only sack in the Miss. Valley State game… Awarded the William (Robi) Robertson Memorial Athletic Scholarship at the annual Lindsay Awards Banquet.
2015: Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year … Was a redshirt freshman
HIGH SCHOOL: Olson was a four-year letterman in football at Cascade Christian HS, where his team won four conference championships (10-3 in 2011; 13-1 in 2012; 12-2 in 2013, and 8-3 in 2014) in a row… Three-year team captain and defensive player of the year…. Also led his team in tackles for three seasons…Voted defensive MVP of his conference and the state two times… His senior year he had 135 tackles, 5 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles; rushed for 583 yards and 8 TDs… named to the state’s All-Star Football Game… A three-time all-state selection at linebacker and tight end (as a senior) … His prep coach was Jon Gettman…. Also lettered in basketball and tennis.
PERSONAL: Olson carries a 4.0 GPA …. A Management major … His parents are Linda and Jeff Olson of Medford … His dad Jeff was the former head football coach at Southern Oregon University … Serves as a pen-pal mentor to a class of underprivileged kids in Northern California