By Clyde Hughes
|Lambert Budzinski came to campus as a linebacker
but has gone from clogging up the middle to Mount Union's
single-season sack leader.
Photo by Dan Poel for d3photography.com
There’s little doubt that Alfred’s offense, Mount Union’s opponent in the regional finals on Saturday, will be plenty concerned on how to stop Purple Raiders defensive lineman Lambert Budzinski.
Budzinski enters the game as Mount Union’s leading tackler (89 tackles), but more impressively has set the Purple Raiders’ single-season record for sacks with 17 for 102 yards in losses. That says a lot for a team with as much tradition and as many national championships as Mount Union.
How Budzinski ended up on the Mount Union defensive line probably says more about him as an athlete and team player. By Budzinski’s own admission, he was a fish out of water when the All-Ohio high school linebacker was asked to play on the defensive line as a freshman for Mount Union.
Defensive coordinator Vince Kehres, though, wanted to get the talented Budzinski on the field and the Purple Raiders that year already had a strong compliment of linebackers.
“When he got here he was a little bit bigger than most of our linebackers and we had some pretty decent depth there and we were thinner on the defensive line,” Kehres said. “We tried him on the defensive line and he’s got some pretty natural football instincts. We felt he could transition himself and play a lot of position. He gradually learned the position and was able to contribute for us that first year. His role for us increased more and more each year.”
Budzinski, now one of Mount Union’s captains, said he really didn’t feel completely comfortable until this year.
“All of my life, I played linebacker,” said Budzinski, who was named for Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert. “I had more time to see things develop. Playing on the defensive line was a whole new experience. It took me three years to figure out what was going on.
“This year, I’m doing less thinking and just playing and letting the game come to me and I think it’s led to my success. Without trying to force things, I’m able to just react and make plays.”
Budzinki now has 217 career tackles and 26 sacks over his career in a position he hadn’t played before attending Mount Union. Kehres said Budzinski’s success has as much to do about his attitude and willing to do what it takes to win as much as his athletic talent. He said another change moving Budzinski from inside the defensive line to the outside edge has allowed him to blossom even more.
“He’s had great attitude about the move,” Kehres said. “In spring practices, we kept him inside. It wasn’t until the summer, I would see him here every day working out and getting a little leaner. I saw him doing agility drills and his quickness.
“We had some bigger guys inside and we thought let’s give him a shot on the edge. We needed to turn someone into a pass rusher because we didn’t have any experience there and didn’t know what we had in some of our younger guys. We needed some leadership and he’s provided that. He’s a big part of where we’re at right now.”
From all of the position changes, Budzinski said one focus has remained the same all four years – winning a national championship. He said Mount Union’s tradition and an opportunity to play for a national title is what attracted him to Alliance. He said the sting of losing to UW-Whitewater has stuck with him and the entire team all year.
“We’ve had more motivation this year,” Budzinski said. “We not just trying to get back to Salem, but we want to win it. Last year made us hungrier. We’re trying to take the step each week to get back there.”
While the goal is to get to Salem, Budzinski said the Purple Raiders cannot lose focus by not paying attention to the opponent immediately in front of them, which is Alfred this week. He said the game against Alfred is the Purple Raiders' most important contest in that they can’t take the next step without the win.
“We try to block out outside opinions and take every week seriously,” Budzinski said. “Every team is trying to get to Salem just like we are. Every team we play is trying to knock us off so we know we’re going to get their best. They want to be in the championship game like us.”
Kehres said Budzinski has been able to show younger players what it takes get ready for big games like the one on Saturday.
“As coaches, we lay out the plan of what we’re going to do,” Kehres said. “They’re accountable to each other and we rely on having good leadership. Lambert’s been a great leader for us. He’s a likeable guy but at the same time he commands your respect.”
Budzinski will rally the troops once more against Alfred, from any position the coach would like him to play.