Montana State defensive end Brad Daly caps a memorable senior season and a unique journey Monday night when he receives the 2013 Buck Buchanan Award as the top defensive player in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).
Daly led the FCS with 14 sacks and 20.5 tackles-for-loss in 2013, earning Big Sky Conference Co-Defensive Player of the Year and First Team All-Big Sky honors. He becomes the second consecutive Bobcat, after Caleb Schreibeis in 2012, to win the prestigious Buchanan Award.
“Brad Daly was the heart and soul of our defense this year,” said Bobcat head coach Rob Ash. “To watch how hard he worked and to see how much this program means to him was very inspiring for everyone in this program. Bobcat Football is part of who his, and when you combine that with a high level of talent and an incredible work ethic you get a season like the one Brad had.”
Daly’s senior season got off to a hot start when he registered four tackles-for-loss and a sack in the season opener against Monmouth. He added two sacks against SMU in the following game and four more against Colorado Mesa in week three. By the end of September Daly had nine sacks, and he led the FCS in sacks and tackles-for-loss from that point on.
In spite of the big numbers piling up, the former Helena Capital star said he was able to focus on the task at hand throughout the fall. “I didn’t look at the Buchanan list until we were done playing,” he said, “then when I looked at it I was kind of shocked.” Daly said he had no idea how well his season stacked up statistically with other candidates even though his brother Bobby, a former Bobcat linebacker and now an assistant coach at Idaho, would frequently “bring up stats.”
Daly came to MSU in 2009 on the heels of his brother’s tremendous career, which netted him All-Big Sky honors and appearances on the Buchanan list himself. Bobby finished in 2008, but after a true freshman season in which he saw increasing playing time throughout the fall it appeared that Brad’s would be finished barely more than one year later.
“By the end of (the 2009-10 academic year) I was so ready to be done with school,” he said, admitting that he never found enjoyment in academic pursuits. “Winter conditioning was really pushing me, and I was thinking to myself, ‘I don’t want to do this.’” So Daly left MSU after the spring semester of 2010 and found work in the oil industry, first in eastern Montana and eventually traveling to North Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah.
The work alternated between exhilarating and excruciatingly boring, and Daly was ready to return to college and football by the spring of 2011. After exploring different options – MSU-Northern was a strong possibility, while Colorado Mesa showed no interest in the player that would roll four sacks against it this fall when Daly made contact – his heart and heritage led him back to Bozeman.
“I was excited for Brad and for the team and for his family,” Beck said of his emotions when Daly passed along word that he was returning to MSU. “I was super happy that he was going to come play D-line for us. I knew we were going to be a better team with him back.”
Daly turned in marvelous seasons in 2011 and ’12, totaling 18 sacks and five-and-a-half other tackles behind the line of scrimmage, with an assortment of other acts of mal-intent to opposing offenses. Playing as Schreibeis’ sidekick had its benefits – “Once Caleb started being a force things started to come my way, too,” he said – as well as challenges, but questions about the team’s rebuilt defensive line surfaced, even with Daly in the lead pass-rusher role.
Those whispers served only as inspiration, Daly says. “I think when we graduated as many people as we did last year, I felt that we had just as much talent, it just wasn’t as proven,” he said. “So everyone had a chip on their shoulder this year, trying to show that we weren’t taking a step back from years before.”
Montana State’s defensive line may be one of the historically brilliant position groups in Big Sky Conference history. Bill Kollar was MVP of the Senior Bowl in the months after his brilliant Bobcat career in the early ‘70s. Mark Fellows, a de facto end, was a dominant force on the school’s 1984 National Championship team, while Corey Widmer (1990) and Dane Fletcher (2009) used Big Sky Defensive MVP honors as a boost to productive NFL careers.
Between Daly and Gary Gustafson, MSU’s first defensive line All-America of the two-platoon era in 1970, Bobcat D-linemen have earned All-America honors on 23 occasions. Of those, 16 hail from Montana, a phenomenon not lost on the latest member of that group. “I think that having a Montana core at the leadership position is really important, especially Caleb and Dane (Fletcher, each Bobcat All-Americas from the Treasure State).” Counting Daly, Beck’s defensive line has produced a different All-American, along with two Buchanan winners, in the last five years.
Daly served as a Bobcat captain during his senior season, a role held previously by both Bobby and their father J. He cited a transitive mindset in accepting that role during the spring and summer helped propel him to his monumental senior season. “Coming into this year I didn’t think (playing at a higher level individually) was a possibility so what I wanted to do was make everyone around me better and leave my mark that way, help the younger kids and everyone else play better. I kind of transformed it to 100 percent about the team, and it just worked out that that’s when the stats started piling up.”
Ash said that was not an accident. “One of the principles of our program is that when you play for the team, individual accolades follow,” Ash said. “Just like Caleb last year, Brad proved that true this year. He deserves all the awards and honors and good things that come his way.”
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