If there’s one thing consistent about the Carroll College Saints this season – through the early slump to their current peak – it’s been the offensive line.
If there’s one thing that’s been consistent about that offensive line over recent years, it’s been Chris Emter.
Emter’s seen the Saints have their highest peak in recent memory, starting 10 games as a freshman during Carroll’s run to the NAIA quarterfinals. He’s been consistent for the Saints every year since then, playing right guard his freshman and sophomore year and moving to right tackle last season and earning a first team all-conference nod and remaining steady there this season.
At 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, Emter is one of Livingston’s biggest exports. A two-time All-American in outdoor track putting the shot, he’s also multitalented.
His play is equally big.
As the Saints moved redshirt freshman quarterback Reece Hiibel into the starting lineup, Emter is a big reason Hiibel has grown. The Saints aren’t calling on Hiibel to throw a lot, but when he does, it’s up to Emter and the offensive line to groove a passing pocket.
Though, if the penultimate game is any forecaster, the offensive line prefers to run block.
A week ago, Carroll carved up Western for 280 yards in the rushing game, plowing lanes for running back Major Ali and crew to run free. For Emter, it’s a love for run-blocking that allows him to have the biggest impact.
“I feel I can control the run game more,” Emter said. “When I’m setting back in the pass game, I like to think I can control what’s going to happen with my punch and set, but I can’t tell what a d-end is going to do when he’s speed rushing. He has a plethora of moves. In the run game, as soon as I get my hands on him I know I can win.”
Part of the reason Emter can be successful in both football and track is translating both sports’ technique, mostly footwork, into the other. “Foot work and being fast in footwork drills and ladders, cones,” Emter says. Technique coupled with great strength has helped Emter reach his current level of play and the Saints string wins together.
Carroll started the season off slowly, but the offensive line showed early signs of being a formidable unit. With returning starters and experienced lineman in tow, the offensive line expected to be the heart of the offense this season.
“We realized we needed to be the rock of the team,” Emter said. “Everyone feeds off the energy of the offensive line.”
The offensive unit preached toughness week in and week out last season – as center Joel Kramer explained to the Independent Record last year. This season, Emter said, it’s all been about incorporating the “DOLA mentality,” or dominant offensive linemen mentality, a throwback to his freshman year when now-coach Alex Kastens led the charge.
“Everybody has it ingrained, the DOLA mentality,” Emter said.
Emter will play his last college football game on Saturday. It’s fitting since, make no mistakes about it, Emter came to Carroll to play football.
Offensive line coach Jim Hogan played a pivotal role in luring Emter to Carroll College.
Each summer, Hogan runs a station at the Rocky Mountain big man camp, a summer showcase for some of the area’s linemen to strut their stuff to colleges. Emter remembers attending the camp and being most interested in the drills Hogan ran. His drills went beyond feats of strength and simple demonstrations. Emter remembers doing things like “get on your knees and popping up and sprinting 15 yards.”
“That left a lasting impression,” he said.
The big man weighed options to attend Montana State or University of Montana, and many other small schools. Hogan’s drills and Mike Van Diest’s pursuit sealed the deal for him to come to Carroll. Van Diest traveled to Livingston to meet with Emter a few times. One of the final trips Van Diest went to Park High and made Emter a “good offer.” Then, the wily coach went to visit Emter’s father at his work, at the wastewater treatment plant.
“I thought that was really awesome that coach Van Diest talked to my dad,” Emter said. “I felt like I was wanted and I hadn’t felt that way with other schools.”
Now, under four years of coaching from Hogan, Emter appreciates each day and each drill.
“He really preaches fundamentals, which is nice,” Emter said.
Hogan empowers the offensive line, trusting the unit to make reads, communicate and execute. The group have excelled together and been a large part of the team’s turnaround this season. Emter and the group take pride in their squad. After all, Emter will remind you, offensive line is the only position group that has five men on the field simultaneously.
“The offensive line has mingled so well,” Emter said. “The comradery is so strong.”
Even as he’s blunt about football bringing him to Carroll, Emter will assure you if you ask that his other focus is in the classroom.
“My grades are incredibly important to me,” he said. "I didn’t only come for football. I’m going to work my butt off and get good grades.”
The business finance major carries a solid GPA and interned at Opportunity Bank over the past summer, working under Tyler Emmert, the Saints' receivers coach and legendary quarterback. Emter has been drawn to the business world, as his mother works in banking. His internship gave him a foot in the door.
“I’ve always been drawn to the business world,” he said. “The internship opened my eyes on what that world has to offer.”
Emter has something of a blueprint for his post-college plans. Ideally, he’d land a banking job near Livingston, Bozeman perhaps. If he established himself there, he may be able to get into an MBA program at Montana State and further his career.
There is, of course, another post-college dream, a path a former Saint is currently on.
It’s the NFL, and it’s not out of the question for Emter.
As he’s wrestled with the idea of training and preparing for workouts and hopefully catching the attention of NFL scouts, Emter says he’s going all-in after track season. While some offensive linemen are eager to drop the tremendous amount of weight they carry to play football, Emter is content keeping it on – and then some.
“I really want to give myself a chance to participate in football after college,” Emter said. “March is the pro day. I’ll put on another five pounds.”
Former Saints offensive linemen Josh James has been off and on NFL rosters. Emter texts James “quite a bit.” James went to the University of Montana’s Pro Day after his senior season and parlayed it into NFL interest. Emter says his situation is not exactly like James’, but that the first step to making it to the pros is UM’s Pro Day.
“Ideally, if you have the money and time, you hire a personal trainer who’s trained people for combines,” Emter said. “For me, I’m in school and on a full-time track load. The time is limited.”
Emter said he’s talked to Sean Blomquist, the former Saints linebacker and current Flathead assistant coach who made a run at the pros. Blomquist reached out for training advice from another Saints great, tight end Casey Fitzsimmons, who played with the Detroit Lions for six seasons. Emter will work every part of Carroll College’s network of athletes to give himself a shot.
“I know that I really do want this,” he said.
With his consistency, he just might.