Olson Once Again Making a Strong Case for Defensive Player of the Year


Montana defensive coordinator Kent Baer‘s resume reads like a laundry list of some of the greatest programs in college football history.

He’s coached the Cal Golden Bears, the Stanford Cardinal, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the Washington Huskies, and the Colorado Buffaloes, just to name a few of the stops in his 46-year career. In that time, he’s mentored legendary names like Pat Tilleman, Justin Tuck, and Derrick Rodgers, again, just to name a few.

He’s spent his life helping create some of the best defenders in the country, and when he arrived at Montana in spring of 2018 to serve as DC and coach the linebackers, it didn’t take long for him to realize he had another player that could measure up against any of them.

That player was Dante Olson.

“He could have played and started at any place I’ve ever coached, and I’ve told every pro scout that’s come through here the same thing. That’s how good he is, and I’ve had a lot of good ones over the years,” says Baer.

“He’s really strong, he can run, and he’s got a burning desire to get to the football. I mean, his effort is off the charts on every snap. He’s great with his eyes, he reads keys, he understands schemes, and he understands how to pull the trigger and go. He’s the real deal when it comes to that.”

When Baer first joined the Grizzly staff, Olson was a relative unknown amongst Griz fans in the leadup to the spring season of 2018, but the anonymity didn’t last long.

As a junior, he went on to have one of the best individual seasons in Montana history, shattering a school record to become the NCAA statistical champion in tackles per game with a total count of 151, earning him a spot on seven different All-America teams.

The only awards, it seemed, that eluded Olson that year were the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year, and the STATS FCS Buck Buchanan Award presented annually to the National Defensive Player of the year.

Now, as he and the 9-2 Grizzlies prepare for their final regular-season game of the year, Olson once again finds himself a candidate for the Buchanan Award with another mind-boggling tackle total of 133 – a Big Sky and FCS best. And dozens of NFL scouts have paid a visit to Missoula to see him in person this year as well.

Why? Consider:

• His 133 stops this season are already good enough to break the school record he already smashed once as a junior (131, set by Kendrick Van Ackeren in 2015).

• He’s posted double-digit tackle totals in seven of UM’s 11 games, including a season-high 18 against Idaho State.

• He turned heads on the national stage with a game-high 10 solo tackles (14 total) at No. 6 Oregon, helping hold the Duck offense and Heisman candidate Justin Herbert to just 35 points – their fourth-lowest points total this season.

• His 12.1 tackle per game average is the best mark in the Big Sky, and his 133 total tackle mark is the best in FCS football. His second-place 12.1 TPG average would be the best in the nation, but the leader (12.4, Brandon Easterling, Dayton) has appeared in one less contest.

• Olson has also tallied 8.5 TFLs (12th-most in the Big Sky), 2.5 sacks, 2 QB hurries, an interception, forced fumble, fumble recovery, and a pass breakup.

• After only two years as a starter (or regular contributor), Olson has climbed his way to the top of the UM career record lists and is now the third-leading tackler in UM history with 351 stops. He needs just six tackles to pass Tyler Joyce (LB, 2004-07) and move into second on the all-time list and just 43 more to pass Hall of Famer Vince Huntsberger and become UM’s all-time leading tackler.

• With one week to play, he’s helped hold three of the top-five rushing offenses in the Big Sky to an average of 71 yards per game on the ground.

• Helped hold the nation’s No. 1 rusher (Monmouth’s Pete Guerriero – 1,428 rush yards this season) to just 47 yards with a game-high 13 tackles and 2.5 TFLs.

• He’s taking care of business in the classroom as a 2019 NFF National Scholar-Athlete and finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy (the academic Heisman)

• He’s a force for good in the community with 39 hours of community service in the last year, an effort that’s made him one of one 12 players nationwide named to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.

• He was the only FCS player named to the Dick Butkus Award Watch List

• He was named the Big Sky Preseason Defensive MVP

• Was named to five different preseason All-America teams.

When the FCS punditry and Big Sky coaches vote on the all-conference and Buchanan Award ballots next week, one thing is certain: it will be difficult to justify placing Olson anywhere but the top of the ballot.

Complete list of Olson’s career accolades
• Currently leading the FCS in tackles with 133
• Currently the No. 3 tackler in Montana history
• An NFF National Scholar-Athlete and Finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy
• Named to the 2019 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team

• Phil Steele Magazine All-America First Team
• Phil Steele Magazine All-Big Sky First Team
• Butkus Award Watch List (Only FCS Player on the list)
• Buck Buchanan Award Watch List
• Big Sky Conference Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
• STATS FCS Preseason All-American
• Athlon Sports Preseason All-American
• HERO Sports Preseason All-American
• College Football America Yearbook Preseason Starting Lineup

• Set Montana school record for single season tackles (151)
• FCS Statistical Champion for Tackles Per Game (13.7)
• Finalist for the STATS FCS Buck Buchanan Award
• Phil Steele 2018 FCS Defensive Player of the Year
• Phil Steele Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year
• Phil Steele First-Team All-American
• Athlon Sports All-American
• STATS FCS First-Team All-American
• Walter Camp Foundation All-American
• Associated Press First-Team All-American
• AFCA First-Team All-American
• HERO Sports First-Team All-American
• First-Team All-Big Sky
• Steve Carlson Team MVP
• Grizzly Defensive MVP
• 2018 GoGriz.com Person of the Year
• 3x ROOT Sports Big Sky Player of the Week
• STATS FCS National Defensive Player of the Week (9/8)
• 2018 FCS Athletic Director’s Association Academic All-Star
• Four-time selection to Montana’s President’s Honor Roll for 4.0 GPA (Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2018, Spring 2019)
• Four-time selection to Dean’s List: Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Spring 2018,
• Three-time Academic All-Big Sky (2016, ’17, & ’18)
• Two-time recipient of Montana’s William (Robi) Robertson Memorial Athletic Scholarship