(Even though the Dolphins won’t pick until the 102nd slot in the 2022 NFL Draft thanks to the acquisition of Tyreek Hill, one player, in particular, has a story worth hearing even if he’s gone by the time Miami finds itself on the clock…)

Lately, another story has been brewing in the Rockies, one that intertwines football and ranching to provide the rest of the country with a more authentic protagonist. The difference between these two tales is simple – one is fictional, and the other is factual, centering around a reluctant star who represents a genuine reflection of life as a rancher in the shadows of the Blacktail Mountains. While Kevin Costner and the Dutton family have given the state of Montana newfound notoriety since Yellowstone’s airing in 2018, native Montanans will be quick to point out that the program is grounded more in fiction than fact.

Enter Troy Andersen of Dillon, Montana.

Standing at 6’3”, 235 pounds with a neck that’s liable to send the top button of a dress shirt flying across a room at dangerous speeds, Andersen has put himself in a position to be drafted into the NFL come April. And unlike most small-school prospects, Andersen isn’t simply praying he’ll be selected by the end of the Draft – he has a legitimate chance at being selected in the top 50.

Andersen ran a thunderous 4.42-second forty-yard dash at the NFL combine, making him the fastest linebacker prospect in the country.

Between his background and his potential in the NFL, Andersen’s story is just as compelling as unlikely. Physical attributes alone, Andersen is something of a unicorn. Adding to the intrigue is the fact that only four Montana State Bobcats have been drafted into the NFL this century. Andersen is next and stands to be the highest one drafted by some margin.

He grew up in a family of ranchers, and you can tell from talking with him. His sentences
start with a western-sounding “ya know” before he answers a question. It’s a mark of where he’s from, where people work first and talk second. Very quickly, it becomes apparent that he doesn’t relish talking about himself like most people do – he’d rather talk ball.

While ranching and football have very little in common on the surface, it’s the latter that is propelling Andersen into the spotlight; he’s found parallels between the two.

Andersen was a human Leatherman knife at Montana State University, racking up a resume full of accolades while playing quarterback, running back, and ultimately linebacker. During his time at MSU, he was named Big Sky Freshman of the Year in 2017, First Team All-Big Sky at quarterback in 2018, First Team All-America at linebacker in 2019, and FCS Defensive Player of the Year in 2021 after a season that included an FCS National Championship appearance for the Bobcats. His resume has only solidified his stock as the NFL Draft approaches.

As Andersen stands on the precipice of the next great step in his career, however, the ranch he grew up on in Beaverhead County isn’t far from his mind. A life spent on the gridiron was never the plan, to begin with. He committed to Montana State – a college in Bozeman, Montana, whose stadium capacity is barely a tenth of Michigan’s – before his senior season in high school and, as a result, never drew much interest from larger colleges in the FBS.

“Every little kid’s dream is to play in the NFL,” he says. “Then you go to Montana State, and that’d still be cool, but it’s maybe not as realistic.”

“I just didn’t know as a freshman how things could go or what would happen.”

Indeed. Every kid might dream of the NFL, but it’s typically just that – a dream, especially for a boy from Montana whose entire college career was spent on a team most people have never heard of. He probably spent more time with cows than coaches for the first stages of
his life.

Does Andersen view himself as being different from any other prospect in the NFL Draft because of his background?

“I think I’m similar to every other college kid coming out. I’m gonna give it my best shot because I love playing football, and I love competing.” Relating to the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine, Andersen says that “you have a few questions going in, but after five minutes of practice, you realize it’s just football. I felt really comfortable.”

If someone at these showcase events was supposed to tell Andersen that a kid from a hometown of 4,261 people isn’t meant to be a professional athlete, they didn’t get the memo.

At the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, Andersen turned heads with his athleticism and was named to the Draft Bible’s All-Senior Bowl team on Sports Illustrated. Following his showing in Mobile, he went onto the Combine and recorded the best broad jump among linebackers in addition to his blazing-fast forty time. His performance quickly caught the attention of draft experts like ESPN’s Todd McShay and Mel Kiper, and Andersen left Indianapolis as the belle of the ball.

“I’ve had a lot of people believe in me, and I believe in myself,” Andersen says. “I’m confident in my abilities, my athleticism, and my preparation – all that has really helped me.”

There is no rah-rah, attention-craving side to Andersen. He’s quick to deflect credit, and he acknowledges that the thought of leaving his home state for the NFL wasn’t initially the plan.

“As my career progressed, I had this opportunity, so now it’s like, ‘heck yeah, I wanna keep playing, I love playing football.’ It’s been everything I’ve known, and… I’ve just had a lot of people support me and help me along the way. That’s what drives me forward.”

As Andersen prepares to move onto the next stage of his career, he also reflects on what
he hopes is his legacy at Montana State.

Referencing linebacker Callahan O’Reilly, another fixture from MSU’s defense during the 2021 season, Andersen says that “the goal is to leave the place better than it was when I got there, and I think the guys that I went into Montana State with, guys like Callahan, all those guys, I think we’ve done that. I think the program’s in a much better place – I mean, obviously, with making it to the national championship… it lays the foundations for the teams and people going forward.”

“It was awesome. I loved my time in Bozeman, and I’m glad to have been a Cat, and I’ll be one for the rest of my life.”

Much of what he has to say is what you’d expect from someone who, while being genuine, wants to make a good impression on his prospective employers. But with Andersen, a player who is unlike most NFL prospects, even if he won’t admit it, something is different.

He comes from a place where athletic stardom is never an expectation, yet he behaves like the act of shattering those unset expectations is as simple as rising each morning to make sure the cows are fed. His worldview, informed by the ranch he grew up on, is what sets him apart more than his athleticism and a quick forty-time ever could. This is where he connects his upbringing to his calling.

“You have to feed your cows every day… it’s not like, ‘oh, today I’m feeling bad, or I’m feeling tired,’ there are lives that depend on you, and you have to go do it. You have to put in the work because if you don’t, that’s your livelihood.”

The warm tone of a voice familiar to Montanans hardens as he talks of his family’s livelihood and now of his own.

“There’s no days off. You have to be on point, and that hard work pays off in the end.”

Asked if any NFL teams in particular appeal to him, he admits that he grew up a Cowboys fan but emphasizes that “I’d be excited to play for any of them.” He also sees his place on an NFL roster primarily at linebacker – where he excelled to close his collegiate career – but “if they want me to play some offense, I’d be more than happy to.”

Without a doubt, some NFL teams will find a sizable role for Andersen. When they do, Montanans will hope that his name will surpass Yellowstone’s in terms of popularity. Andersen certainly has a chance – what one story lacks in realism, the other makes up for even if its main character doesn’t delight in the attention. He may not see himself as being different from any other prospect who will hear their name called in the NFL Draft, but most do. The tape and testing numbers speak for themselves, as does Andersen’s outlook on what’s to come, speak more like a rancher than a linebacker about to make millions in the NFL:

“Whatever happens happens – I’m excited for that next journey.”

(Thanks for reading! This story first appeared on https://skylinesportsmt.com and can also be found on their Twitter page. For more content — typically Dolphins-related reads — give me a follow on Twitter @EvanMorris72)


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