BOZEMAN — During the spring, senior running back Nick LaSane had designs on finally becoming a true leader on the Montana State football team. Coach Jeff Choate was among those with high hopes.
“Nick’s been waiting his turn a long time,” Choate said in March. “He’s got an opportunity now to do what he came here to do, which is to be the guy that’s packing the rock for us.”
But after a productive spring, things went terribly awry for LaSane: He was arrested twice over the summer, first for suspicion of driving under the influence in June and again in July on the charge of obstructing a law enforcement officer in the aftermath of a bar fight.
For Choate, LaSane’s actions were unacceptable. Choate imposed a four-game suspension and LaSane was forced to let go of a portion of his athletic scholarship, among other internal penalties.
“Certainly that was a blow to our team. It was a blow to Nick,” Choate said.
He spent fall camp at the bottom of the depth chart, and played on the scout team and covered kicks on special teams in practice through the first month of the season.
“Before everything happened, I was focused. I guess not focused enough,” LaSane said Tuesday, addressing his troubled offseason for the first time. “I guess this just fueled my fire more.
“Having to sit and watch my brothers play I guess made me hungrier than I’ve ever been.”
Upon his return, Choate and the coaching staff knew the Bobcats could benefit from LaSane’s fresh legs and, as offensive coordinator Brian Armstrong put it, the “bad intentions” of his physical, between-the-tackles style.
In his first game back, a 30-22 victory over Portland State two weeks ago, LaSane rushed for 63 yards on 17 carries. Last week at Eastern Washington, in a 31-19 loss, LaSane ran for a career-high 87 yards on 19 attempts and scored a fourth-quarter touchdown.
LaSane had 80 career carries in his first three seasons. He has 36 in the past two games alone, 21 more than any other MSU running back in that stretch.
Clearly, the Bobcats are putting their trust in LaSane again. And the product of Dallas, who spent much of his career fighting for playing time through separate knee injuries and waited his turn behind the likes of fellow backs Chad Newell and Gunnar Brekke, is both accepting responsibility for his actions and embracing his second chance.
“It’s felt great. Just being back on the field with my brothers, that’s just what I missed,” he said Tuesday.
“I made a few silly mistakes. I let my team down, I let my brothers down, my coaches down, the community down ... I guess it was good that I paid my dues. I’m just happy to be back.”
He added: “It’s always hard to accept punishment, but whenever you go through things like that and things like that happen, you have no choice. I knew that there were going to be consequences for my actions.”
In LaSane’s absence — and with a season-ending foot injury to Boise State transfer Jake Roper — the Bobcats turned primarily to Edward Vander and true freshman Troy Andersen to carry the running game.
Andersen rushed for 131 yards and two touchdowns in a 49-21 victory at North Dakota on Sept. 23. Andersen’s 293 yards currently lead all MSU running backs. Though he missed last week with a soft tissue injury, Vander has 261 yards and is averaging 6.6 per attempt.
But LaSane’s physicality brings an added dimension to MSU’s ground attack, which ranks second in the Big Sky Conference. The Bobcats look to keep it going this week in a game at Northern Colorado.
Beyond his on-the-field attributes, LaSane’s teammates took notice of the way he accepted the punishments imposed on him.
The public embarrassment coupled with the internal discipline could have derailed LaSane’s entire season. Now, it’s water under the bridge.
“It was an extremely tough situation for Nick but I thought he handled it well,” receiver and team captain Mitch Herbert said. “Those few weeks where he wasn’t really doing a whole lot in terms of playing, he was doing a great job of helping us prepare.
“He was on the scout team and giving us great looks on special teams. He made us better during that time. I’m excited for him to get an opportunity to play these last few games of his senior year because he’s a special running back. He brings an element to the game that we haven’t had.”
What did LaSane learn from the experience?
“Stay out of trouble. Stay out of places that can get you in trouble,” he said. “Just stay focused.”