BOZEMAN — Whether he wanted it or not, Troy Andersen was thrust into the spotlight in 2018.
He earned Big Sky Conference freshman of the year playing linebacker and running back in 2017, but prior to the 2018 football season the humble Andersen was named Montana State’s starting quarterback, one of the most scrutinized positions in the Treasure State.
“None of it was my doing. It was all my teammates and coaches,” Andersen said. “I was just kind of put in a position where you do get put in the spotlight, but it was nothing that I did. It was all my teammates and coaches and parents and everybody that supported us.”
While Montana State did have a number of players produce quality seasons, Andersen was the catalyst in helping the Bobcats to their first winning season (8-5) in coach Jeff Choate’s tenure, their first playoff appearance since 2014 and the first playoff win (35-14 over Incarnate Word) since 2012. Andersen finished the season with 1,412 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, breaking the program’s single-season record set by Don Hass in 1966.
Andersen helped key the Bobcats to three consecutive wins — including a thrilling 29-25 win over rival Montana at Washington-Grizzly Stadium — to close out the regular season and clinch a playoff berth. The Dillon native earned first-team all-Big Sky Conference honors, STATS FCS third-team all-American recognition and HERO Sports’ sophomore of the year.
“I knew he was going to have an impact. I mean, probably in what way you never really know, whether that was him playing outside linebacker and rushing the quarterback or getting handed the ball and taking off,” Choate said. “But clearly with what happened with (2017 starting quarterback Chris Murray’s) situation, to me it was a no-brainer. I think it took some convincing to some other people. What do you do? You make your best player your quarterback.”
The move paid immediate dividends as Andersen rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns in MSU’s season-opening win over Western Illinois. It came with a price, though. Andersen suffered a broken hand against the Leathernecks and played sparingly the next two games, getting more snaps at his 2017 positions — linebacker and running back — than at quarterback.
“I don’t think people realize how tough this kid is,” Choate said. “He’s a tough son of a gun. He took a lot of shots, a lot that probably he didn’t need to take. It’s just stylistically how he plays. On top of his physical attributes and his intelligence, that toughness is something that maybe is a little bit underrated.”
Andersen eclipsed 100 yards rushing in eight of the Bobcats’ 10 games to close out the 2018 season and improved as a passer as the season progressed. He completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes in five of his first six starts at quarterback, throwing six interceptions and just one touchdown, but Andersen completed more than 60 percent of his passes in three of four games prior to the debacle at North Dakota State in the second round of the FCS playoffs.
With Andersen entrenched at quarterback, the Bobcats rushed for 3,014 yards this season, third-most in the Big Sky Conference, behind an offensive line anchored by center Alex Neale and left tackle Mitch Brott.
“Those guys, they work so hard. We rushed for I don’t even know how many yards a game,” Andersen said. “They’re kind of just a hard-nosed group. It’s 5 degrees in the morning when we practice and they’re all in short sleeves and no tights and just kind of go to work every day. Those guys are awesome. I love them.”
“Mitch has the biggest man crush on Troy Andersen of anybody. He is all about that,” Choate said. “There’s a couple times when Troy’s running down the field, the next guy in the picture is 63. I think those guys would do anything. They know that Troy will lay it on the line for them, and they’re willing to do that for them.”
Neale was the only senior starting on MSU’s offensive line, so 2019 could be another banner year for Andersen and the Bobcat offense — that is, if he plays quarterback. Choate has indicated that Andersen will likely move from his spot behind center next season, but, one way or another, he expects Andersen to be featured in the offense.
“I think one of the things he did is he emerged and he established himself as the leader on the offensive side of the ball,” Choate said. “I kind of joke about this with our staff, I’m like, ‘Hey, the guy might walk into my office and say, “Coach, I want to be quarterback.”’ Am I going to argue with him on that? Probably not. I don’t know that that’s who Troy is. I think he sees this as his team and justifiably so. He’s emerged as a guy that can lead. Regardless of what his role is, that’s going to be a valuable thing for us — not just his production on the field, but what he brings in terms of the intangibles.”
“I don’t have a crystal ball, but he’s going to touch the football (in 2019). He’s got to. He’s too talented of a player not to,” Choate added. “I think his legend can continue to grow if we can just utilize him a couple different ways. I know (MSU sports information director Bill Lamberty) was always advocating for us to start him at linebacker and quarterback, and I was like, ‘Eh, no. I think I might look kind of dumb if we do and he gets hurt on defense.’”
“Oh man, I don’t know. That’d be something,” Andersen laughed. “Wherever I end up or whatever I do, if I can help the team, I’m all about that. Football’s the ultimate team game, and as long as I’m out there with my 100 other brothers, I’ll be happy.”