(Editor’s note: Montana Tech press release)
BUTTE – The Digger Athletic Hall of Fame Induction Class of 2018 was announced Thursday. The Class of 2018 is Sherman Vernon, Jim Patelis, Steve Housler, Nolan Saraceni, Gunnar Kayser, 1962 Football Team, 1979 Football Team and the 1983 Football Team.
Hall of Fame Weekend is slated for September 21-22. The third annual Digger Scholarship Scramble at the Butte Country Club is on Friday and the induction reception on Friday night. Location for the reception is to be determined. The Class of 2018 will also be honored at halftime of the football game on Saturday when the Orediggers host Montana State Northern.
Sherman Vernon played two seasons of basketball for the Orediggers from 1986-88. Vernon averaged 19 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists a game as a senior leading the Orediggers to a Frontier Conference regular season title and Tournament Championship. Tech just missed the national tournament as a runner-up at the District 12 Championship. In addition, Vernon received the Rick Shaw Memorial MVP Award, was named the Frontier Conference Player of the Year and an Honorable Mention All-American.
Vernon played three years of professional basketball for the USA Tour Team traveling to Singapore, Indonesia, Taiwan and Hong Kong. After finishing his playing career, Vernon coached all levels of basketball for 18 years from high school to college, winning multiple championships, receiving coach of the year award twice, and helping a host of student-athletes secure scholarships for college.
Vernon graduated from Montana Tech in 1991 with a degree in Society and Technology. He is currently a college professor and has obtained three master’s degrees in Sports Management, Organizational Management and Human Resources Management. Vernon will finish a doctorate in Education Leadership this year.
Jim Patelis was an offensive lineman for the Orediggers from 1979-80. The senior captain transferred to Montana Tech from Lock Haven College in Pennsylvania. Oredigger head coach Bill Connors, also came from Lock Haven, brought Patelis to the Mining City to lead the Orediggers. Patelis was a two-time first team All-Conference selection and helped lead the Orediggers to the 1979 Frontier Conference title. As a senior, Patelis was named first team All-District by the NAIA and was an honorable mention on the Associated Press All-America team.
Patelis graduated from Montana Tech with a degree in Society and Technology. After graduation, he started his professional career in corrections working as a state Probation and Parole Officer before becoming a federal Probation Officer for 25 years. Most recently, Patelis was the State House Representative for House District 52 in Billings.
Running back Steve Housler was also a Pennsylvania transfer playing from 1979-80. Housler gained 2,230 yards in two seasons while scoring 20 touchdowns. He was the top rusher in NAIA District 12 averaging 124.1 yards per game in 1979 when Tech won the Frontier Conference title. Housler averaged 5.1 yards per carry and was ranked 7th in the nation in scoring with 13 touchdowns. Housler was named honorable mention Kodak College All-American in 1979. The next season, Housler was named first team All-American. He finished the year with 1,113 yards averaging 123.7 yards per game and scoring seven touchdowns.
The next two Orediggers are from recent Tech history. Montana Tech student-athletes earning first team All-America status enter the Digger Athletic Hall of Fame after two years removed from their athletic careers. Nolan Saraceni and Gunnar Kayser dominated their respective sides of the ball during the Orediggers’ back-to-back Frontier Title campaigns in 2015 and 2016.
Saraceni, a two-time first team American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) NAIA All-American in 2015 and 2016, was unstoppable by opposing defenses. The Billings native is fourth all-time in rushing yards and touchdowns finishing with 3,487 and 42. He holds the second and fourth best rushing marks in a season with 1,683 (2015) and 1,341 (2016). Saraceni has the school record for most touchdowns in a game with five. Saraceni finished his career with a staggering 6.8 yards per carry average. In one of his most dominating performances, Saraceni dashed for 273 yards against Carroll College, including four touchdowns by ground and one passing. The day included a school record 99-yard run for a touchdown. Saraceni was named Frontier Conference Player of the Year in 2015 and 2016 helping lead the Orediggers crowns.
Kayser was named the Victory Sports Network (VSN) Defensive Player of the Year and first team All-American as well as a second team AFCA NAIA second team All-American in 2016. The Frontier Conference named Kayser the Defensive Player of the Year. Kayser led the conference with seven interceptions and he totaled 64 tackles. Kayser’s seven interceptions ranks him third most in a single season. Originally from Colbert, Washington, Kayser was a finalist for the Cliff Harris Award given to the top small school defensive player. Kayser finished his career with 168 total tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 15 pass break ups and eight interceptions.
The 1962 Football Team is recognized as the team who reinvigorated athletics at the School of Mines, the moniker for Montana Tech at the time. The School of Mines did not offer athletic scholarships while other schools in the conference and around the country had already started. Led by Hall of Fame Coach Ed F. Simonich, the Orediggers snapped a nine year, 44-game losing streak by defeating Northern Montana College 33-7. The victory is believed to have saved the football program and athletics as interest was dwindling with the consistent losing. Despite the longest losing streak in school history and all odds against them, a team of just 31 players, showed grit and a “never give up” attitude. The team played for pride and passion for the game. The victory represented their hard working, blue collar attitude and signaled that athletics had a place at the School of Mines. The teams in the years after built on the historic win establishing competitive football.
The 1979 Football Team is credited with bringing crowds back to games. The School of Mines had not won a conference championship since 1970 and the days of Don Heater. The team went undefeated in the Frontier Conference losing to only Division II programs. Led by head coach and Frontier Conference Coach of the Year Bill Connor, the team finished with a 5-2-1 overall record. The Orediggers produced 17 All-Conference selections and All-American running back Steve Housler. One of the most prominent notes on the team is their 46-8 drubbing of eventual Big Sky Conference member Eastern Washington to finish the season.
The best Oredigger football team of the 1980s was 1983. The team produced 21 All-Conference selections with Frontier Conference Coach of the Year Paul Giesey. Tech went undefeated in conference action finishing with a 7-3 overall record. Quarterback Greg Miller led the Oredigger offense earning the Frontier’s Player of the Year honor. Tech led the Frontier and District 12 in rushing per game with 257 yards a contest. Reaching as high as No. 8 in the NAIA Coaches Poll, the Orediggers just missed the narrow window of the NAIA post season at that time. The team was selected to play in the Sunflower Bowl in Kansas, but turned down the offer due to the cost of travel and the amount of school the student-athletes would have missed.