BOZEMAN — Replacing an All-American and soon-to-be NFL linebacker like Troy Andersen is no easy task for Montana State.
In fact, head coach Brent Vigen will tell you it’s impossible.
"I’ve said it a few times - we’re not going to replace Troy," Vigen stated. "We don’t have a guy that’s going to be his size, his athleticism, but that group collectively is going to have to still play really well. That starts with Callahan [O'Reilly].”
In 2021, O'Reilly ranked second on the team with 95 tackles right behind Andersen's team-leading 147. However, offseason surgery has kept the Bozeman grad off the field this spring.
“He’s getting healed up," Vigen reassured. "It certainly starts with him, but Nolan [Askleson] and Danny [Uluilakepa] and Alex Johnson - in particular those three that played last year - have all taken I think a good step forward.”
Amongst that trio, it was Askelson who proved to be a strong backup last fall sharing reps with both Andersen and O'Reilly until a leg injury three weeks into the season against the University of San Diego kept him out until the FCS Championship.
“Nolan was really playing well when he went down," Vigen said. "He was almost like a third starter. He worked really hard to put himself in that position and saw himself as a key factor on how we play defense.”
"It hurt man," Askelson reflected. "I wanted to be out there. I really wanted to be out there. That was a special year for everybody. It was so awesome to be a part of it to just be on the team, but I would have loved to be out there and have a role on it.”
Even though it was tough watching from the sidelines, the Billings native is choosing to view the experience from a cup half full perspective.
“I didn’t get to travel on all the trips, so I was here a lot with some of the freshmen, the redshirts, and I got to know a lot of them," Askelson explained. "I think as I got older into this year and trying to step into a leadership role getting to know them helped a lot.”
While Montana State is heading into their final week of spring ball, this is just the beginning for Askleson and his return back to full strength.
“That’s the whole thing through summer is get back to that peak performance level for him, and I anticipate that Nolan will take advantage of that," Vigen concluded.
Montana State will conclude spring camp Saturday, April 23 with the annual Sonny Holland Classic at Bobcat Stadium. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.