MISSOULA — Montana linebacker Dante Olson referred to himself as "just a small boy from a small town in Medford, Oregon," on Friday night.
The 6-foot-3, 240-pound senior became larger than life in Missoula during his five-year stint with the Griz and capped his stellar two-year run as a starter by winning the Buck Buchanan Award, given to the most outstanding defensive player in the FCS.
"It’s truly an honor and very humbling to receive an award in his name," Olson said while wearing a gray suit with a black shirt and maroon tie at the STATS FCS Awards Banquet in Frisco, Texas, where he became the third Grizzly to win the award, joining Kroy Biermann in 2007 and Tyrone Holmes in 2015.
Olson, who finished third in voting last year, collected 363 points, 88 more than the second-place finisher, James Madison defensive end Ron'Dell Carter. Olson got 36 of the 156 first-place votes; Carter was second with 27 first-place votes.
"As I reflect on the past year, a ton of great memories," Olson said. "I think back, and football’s a team game. I wouldn’t be standing in front of you guys getting emotional of course if it weren’t for the team that surrounds me each and every day. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you guys at home for pushing me each and every day to be better.
"From the redshirts and the scout team to the senior class that I’ve grown so close with and made so many memories with, from winter condo — coach Hauck’s favorite — and spring ball and summer workouts, floating the river, playing my last game at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, it’s been an incredible five years. What a way to end it. So thank you guys for helping me get to where I am today."
Olson got especially choked up when talking about Griz head coach Bobby Hauck. He dominated the field as a two-year starter under Hauck after not seeing much action under former coach Bob Stitt.
Olson has won 13 All-America awards over the past two seasons, was voted the Big Sky co-defensive player of the year in 2019 and was named the FCS defensive player of the year by the FCS Athletic Directors Association. He broke the Montana single-season and career tackle records and the Big Sky single-season tackle record.
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"Coach Hauck, man, I’m so glad you decided to be a Griz again two years ago. Thank you for believing in me," Olson said, pausing for five seconds, "from the day you set foot on campus again and giving me the chance to play. So grateful for you, not only to call you a great head coach but a mentor for me in life."
Olson also singled out Kent Baer, the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, and Matt Nicholson, the strength and conditioning coach.
"Thank you for pushing me each and every day to be the best player that I could possibly be," Olson said of Baer. "You saw it in me, and you demanded it in me. I can honestly say if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be up here."
Olson thanked the rest of the coaching staff, the University of Montana, his brother and sister, and especially his parents.
"Thank you to my parents. You guys are truly my biggest supporters," Olson said. "I’ll never forget the memories of running around as a little boy on my dad’s football field. My mom was the cheerleaders coach. I just want to thank you guys. I can’t even begin to put into words how much you guys mean to me."
North Dakota State freshman quarterback Trey Lance added the Payton Award as the top offensive player in FCS to the Jerry Rice Award he had already won as the subdivision's top freshman.
Sacramento State's Troy Taylor won the Eddie Robinson Award for FCS coach of the year.