BUTTE -- The blue-collar pedigree of Butte is on full display during the fall, as football teams in the Mining City showcase the town’s distinguished work ethic.
Early to practice, maximum effort throughout and staying late to guarantee improvements are something the programs at Butte High, Butte Central and Montana Tech take pride in. While the Mining City admittedly isn't for every athlete, fulfilling Butte's legacy is something the Montana Tech safeties display on the field each day.
“One thing we always pride ourselves on here in Butte, we talk about the legacy of the community, the legacy of Montana Tech as an institution. Our background is blue collar, it’s work ethic, it’s show up and bring your lunch pail every single day," said Tech head coach Chuck Morrell. "Certainly there are kids that are on our team that come from other parts of the state that fit that mold.”
“That’s something I had to get used to," admitted senior safety Tucker Rauthe, who played high school football at Kalispell Glacier. "Once I got here, it’s just the hard-working, hard-nosed mentality of Butte and the Butte community. It grows on you.”
Tech has found success with athletes from varying backgrounds, transforming them to the "Butte way," particularly on Saturday afternoons. But there is one upbringing Morrell especially likes of his athletes.
"Often times we’ve had a lot of success with farm and ranch kids that come in here and do a fantastic job within the framework of our program,” he said.
Junior safety Justin May fits the mold. The former Chester-Joplin-Inverness all-state running back and safety still returns home each summer to the family farm, assisting as the operation prepares for the fall harvest. While many coaches frown on players leaving during the summer months, May is certainly an exception.
"I have zero concerns with Justin. I know he's a big part of their family operation up there, and he needs to be there in order for his family to be successful farming," said Morrell. "One thing I know about Justin, he has come back to this season in incredible shape, always shows up ready to go. He's been a heck of a football player for us the last few years, and coming into his junior season, he's definitely a guy to watch for."
“Back on the farm we were getting ready for harvest most of the time. I was actually back down in Butte for a couple weeks in June, working out with the team and stuff," May said. "Butte is a hard-working community. All the older people you come around, they’re always asking, ‘How’s Tech going to be this year?’ It’s fun. I enjoy it, really.”
May and Rauthe guide an experienced Oredigger secondary into the fall season, after ranking near the top of the team's defensive statistics the past few seasons. May actually led the Orediggers in tackling in 2017 (49), while Rauthe turned heads last fall with 63 tackles and an interception.
“We’re talking a lot with that group about being elite," said Morrell. "We’re going to be challenged every single game with the scheme that we run. DeMaree Morris, Matthew Drake, Jake Orvis, Tanner Chase, Teddy Croft, we just have a lot of guys that have a lot of playing experience coming back. They fully understand the scheme, so we’re able to do some advanced things schematically with those guys, and it’s great to have depth. That means we’ll be fresh going into the fourth quarter.”
Tech was one of the most efficient defenses in the Frontier Conference last fall, ranking No. 1 in opponent completion percentage. But there is one area the Orediggers would like to see improvement.
“We definitely need to ramp up the interception rate, and then never missing a tackle. That’s one thing coach Morrell really stresses," said May. "If you’re a defensive back, you’re going to be tackling a lot of players in open space, so don’t miss tackles.”
“We try to get physical in the secondary, so that’s just one thing we pride ourselves on is making the for-sure tackle, then if we can bring it, we’ll try,” added Rauthe.