WHITEFISH – When Andrew Rolin was named the head football coach at Montana State University-Northern in December of 2017, he brought with him a spark and enthusiasm he hoped would rejuvenate the program.
That character, drive and mindset quickly impressed Rolin’s boss.
“He’s that young coach that’s chomping at the bit. He’s very serious and he wants to make a name for himself, and that’s what he’s doing right now,” said MSU-Northern director of athletics Christian Oberquell. “He’s not holding back, he’s going full bore and it’s good to see back in this program. There’s so much enthusiasm, it’s really good.”
Rolin’s passion must be contagious. The fervor of the head football coach has spread beyond campus, restoring faith in fans and donors, and it’s the latter laying a new foundation for the Lights.
After years of discussion, seemingly beginning when the university re-introduced football in 1998, MSU-Northern began fundraising efforts early in 2019 and is closing in on building its own football stadium on campus, moving away from Havre High’s Blue Pony Stadium.
“We’re getting close (to reaching our fundraising goals). We’re actually having a meeting on (Tuesday, June 25) and hoping, right now the plan is to break ground in early fall, middle fall,” said Oberquell. “It’s all dependent on, we’re getting close to our fundraising goal, which has surprised a lot of people and they thought it would take us a couple years to do it, but we’ve gotten pretty close in three-and-a-half months. We’re going strong.”
While many believed Northern’s goals of opening a stadium were a pipe dream, Oberquell, Chancellor Greg Kegel and others haven’t lost sight of the end goal.
Admittedly, that hasn’t been easy. The Lights haven’t had a winning season since 2008, while winning only three games in the past four seasons. Northern, which last qualified for the NAIA playoffs in 2006, a first-round loss at Carroll College, is all-in on Rolin’s re-build, its commitment to building new facilities its proof.
“It’s going to be reality and hopefully next year we’ll be playing on it. I don’t think we’ll be playing on it this year, but there should be some dirt being moved and things getting done, then next spring the turf should be down and we should be playing our first game on it in 2020,” said Oberquell.
When the late coach Walt Currie restored football to Northern in 1998, the Lights struck a deal with Havre High to, in essence, rent Blue Pony Stadium for an annual fee. MSU-N pays Havre High $5,000 to utilize the entire stadium, according to HHS administrators.
Northern’s practice field, meanwhile, is just shy of a half-mile southwest as the crow flies, and it’s there where the new stadium will lie.
“It will be running east and west, so if you walk out of the main administrative building, Cowan Hall, and you look to the west, you’ll look straight up and see the scoreboard,” Oberquell explained. “It will be bowled out a little bit, so similar to what Rocky Mountain College is, kind of like a horseshoe. The main entrance will be on the east end and the kids can walk from their dorms over. It’s going to be so much for student life, atmosphere. It’s going to be great.”
Oberquell’s excitement is easily noticeable, as it is with all involved in the project, which seemingly comes at the perfect time – a new stadium for a young, still new coach, to build new expectations and revive a program.
“When we start getting back in the winning column, things are going to step up. Last year we finished up with all the remodels of our locker rooms, sound system in the gym, we put about $400,000 in the gym, updated everyone’s locker room, added a bunch of new weight equipment and made the weight room better,” said Oberquell. “The stadium is kind of our next big phase, but everyone has gotten a little bit out of it so far — new lockers, new carpet, lots of things that way. It’s going well.”