Montana State vs. UT Martin

Montana State's Troy Andersen (15) lines up during an FCS playoff game against UT Martin on Dec. 4 at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman.

BOZEMAN — It’s been a tiring couple days for Troy Andersen, but not in a bad way.

The Montana State senior linebacker traveled to Las Vegas on Tuesday for the 63rd annual National Football Foundation Awards Dinner, where he would find out if he won the William V. Campbell Trophy or not. Andersen left the ceremony early to catch a flight, and he landed in Bozeman around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday. He got about three hours of sleep, then got ready for practice. Around the end of MSU’s practice, the top-three finalists for the Buck Buchanan Award were announced, and Andersen is one of them.

Andersen has been focused on the Bobcats’ upcoming FCS quarterfinal game against Sam Houston, he said. But he expressed gratitude for all of the recognition he’s received in the final season of his legendary college career.

“It was a whirlwind of a day,” Andersen said Wednesday. “But being able to meet some really incredible people and the other student-athletes as well, they’re just really impressive, everybody there. It was an awesome experience, and I’m glad I got to be a part of it.”

The NFF ceremony honored both the 2020 and 2021 college football hall of fame classes. Among the players and coaches inducted were Eric Dickerson, the late Steve McNair and Tony Romo. Other stars in attendance included hall-of-fame quarterback Peyton Manning, the 1997 Campbell Trophy winner.

“You’re walking around this giant ballroom and there’s a who’s who of college football,” Andersen said. “It was pretty neat to be in their presence.”

Andersen grew up a Dallas Cowboys fan, so one of his favorite memories from the trip was meeting Romo, a former Cowboys QB.

“He was a pretty cool guy,” Andersen said. “I was talking to some of the kids there that were quarterbacks, and they said that he's a pretty genuine person. He would pull up their film and was giving them tips.”

Andersen was one of 13 college football players to be named a 2021 NFF Scholar-Athlete, and he was the only one from the FCS. All 13 received $18,000 postgraduate scholarships and were nominated for the 32nd Campbell Trophy, also known as the “Academic Heisman.” The award went to Iowa State tight end Charlie Kolar.

The 6-foot-6, 260-pound Kolar was one of several athletes who accomplished the rare feat of making Andersen (6-4, 240) look small. Another was Aidan Hutchinson, a 6-6, 265-pound defensive end at Michigan who is a Heisman Trophy finalist and is projected to go high in the 2022 NFL draft, potentially No. 1 overall. Andersen, who is also an intriguing draft prospect, would have roomed with Hutchinson if he had stayed in Vegas for at least one night, Andersen said.

“He’s like, ‘Oh, you’re my roommate that’s not here,’ and I was like, ‘Jeez, dude,’” said Andersen, who looked up to the ceiling to illustrate Hutchinson’s height. “He’s massive. There’s a reason why he’s a Heisman finalist.

“Those (13) guys are great players and great humans.”

Andersen has been invited to another awards dinner. He, Montana linebacker Pat O’Connell and Florida A&M linebacker Isaiah Land are the three remaining finalists for the 27th Buchanan Award, given to the FCS’ defensive player of the year. Andersen edged O’Connell for the Big Sky DPOY.

“He’s a Montana kid, so it’s cool that there’s two of us in there,” Andersen said of O’Connell. “I’ve read a few stats on the other kid, and he seems like a stud.”

The winner of the 2021 Buchanan Award will be announced Jan. 7 at the FCS National Awards Banquet in Frisco, Texas, and the ceremony will air a day later on Bally Sports Regional Networks.

“It’s a pretty cool honor,” Andersen said. “There’s a whole ton of players in the country that are really good, and to be one of the top three that people think are the best, it means a lot.”

Also on Jan. 8 in Frisco will be the FCS national title game. Eighth-seeded MSU will play at No. 1 Sam Houston on Saturday, so Andersen has a chance to earn two massive achievements on consecutive days next month.

Email Victor Flores at victor.flores@406mtsports.com and follow him on Twitter at @VictorFlores406

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