In 2012, his first season with Towson, Monte Gaddis tied for the team lead in sacks and tied for second in tackles. But the 21-year-old inside linebacker didn't have an interception in his college career until the third quarter of last week's 49-7 rout of Holy Cross.
"I had a few tipped balls last year that I didn't capitalize on," Gaddis said, with a chuckle. "It was a great feeling. It was a great feeling to get off the field and help my team out. It was a great feeling, my first one."
Gaddis may not excel at intercepting passes, but that's not what the No. 4 Tigers — who play Delaware State in their home opener Saturday — need from the senior. His major contribution at Towson is serving as the anchor in the middle of the defense.
Gaddis, who is tied for second on the team with 10 tackles and tied for first with two pass breakups, plays a big role in a Tigers defense that ranks 12th in average yards allowed (276.5) and 13th in average points (12.5) in the Football Championship Subdivision.
While Gaddis isn't the most physically imposing player on Towson's defense — he's listed at 5 feet 11 and 206 pounds — his determination is what has impressed Tigers coach Rob Ambrose.
"Monte will tell you that he's not the biggest, he's not the strongest, he's not the fastest," Ambrose said. "They've got nicknames for him, which I'm not going to share because I don't want to throw him under the bus, and they're all true. But because he's such a good guy and he's so conscientious, he gets everything out of his ability."
A three-year standout in high school at Cleveland Central Catholic, Gaddis' collegiate journey began at another Maryland program. He was a walk-on for the Terps in 2010, but academic issues forced him to leave and enroll at Dean College, a junior college in Franklin, Mass.
Gaddis made 52 tackles and led the Bulldogs to the Northeast Football Conference championship in 2011, earning the team's defensive Most Valuable Player award. Ambrose already had Gaddis on his radar before that, however, thanks to some information from a few Maryland coaches.
"He came highly recommended, and he's a hard worker," Ambrose said. "He's a student of the game, but there's something about his personality that has taken him to the success that he's gotten. He's a really good person. Very conscientious and being good is important to him, and it's kind of rubbed off on everybody on the defense. It's contagious."
Gaddis, who was recruited by Massachusetts and Old Dominion before settling on the Tigers, admitted that his transition to Towson from Dean College was slightly more difficult than he had anticipated.
"I feel like I did a good job of being a leader and fulfilling my job, but I could've done more about learning the plays better," he said. "There were times when I first got in there when I didn't really understand the defensive system. I wasn't studying the playbook. But as the games went on, I started looking into the playbook more and understanding the defense."
As Gaddis became more familiar with the defense, he also branched out in the locker room, trying to set an example with his effort in practices and games. He has been a veteran influence for a young defensive front that has started sophomore defensive tackle Jon Desir and a pair of junior defensive ends in Drew Cheripko and Ryan Delaire (a Massachusetts transfer).
"On the field, he's been consistent since Day 1. Where I see a big difference is off the field," said Spiro Morekas, the play-by-play broadcaster for Towson football games. "He's really become a leader. I remember interviewing him earlier in the year last [season], and he was kind of shy, didn't want to say a whole lot because he had just come to Towson. But by the end of the year, he was vocal, he was a leader, and that's carried over into this year."
As the Tigers' middle linebacker, Gaddis relays defensive calls from the sideline to his teammates and gets the correct alignment on the field. With college teams replacing traditional, run-heavy formations for no-huddle, pass-happy schemes in recent years, that might seem like a lot to handle, but it's a challenge that Gaddis said he enjoys.
"I've been a captain in high school, community college and now Towson," he said. "I just feel like this is what I do. So there's no pressure at all."
One of two captains on the defensive side, along with sophomore outside linebacker Bryton Barr, Gaddis said he understands if people assume that this is his defense, but his foremost objective is helping the Tigers to postseason success.
"I just want the ring," he said. "Since this is my senior year, I just want the national championship. And I feel like, by having the national championship, all the individual accolades will come along."