When most people were inside hiding from the smoke and dust, more than 150 high school boys in helmets and pads were out on the football fields: conditioning, practicing plays and gearing up for the 2007 season. Now it’s time to play.
Glacier and Flathead high schools open their seasons with games on Friday, Aug. 24. Glacier has a home game against Butte High while Flathead travels to Great Falls to face the C.M. Russell Rustlers. After summer practices, both coaches feel their teams are ready to enter a season of such great transition.
Grady Bennett, Glacier’s coach, said he couldn’t have asked for more from his young group of kids. Without a senior class, the players enter the season fully aware that they’re the youngest team in Class AA. They’ll be a bit smaller and less experienced, Bennett said, but they’re excited to get a brand new program off the ground.
“We’re blessed to be here,” Bennett said, “to be a part of something so special.”
The players’ shared sense of doing something historical – Glacier is the first AA school to open up since 1986 – makes them a close group of teammates, on and off the field, Bennett said. Bennett, who coached previously at Flathead, said that kind of camaraderie is important for his team.
“They’re a group that hangs out,” he said. “They understand the expectations. They realized what they were a part of from day one.”
Over the summer Bennett entertained thoughts about not playing a varsity schedule. He was worried about the team’s youth. But when he brought his players to a June camp in Billings, he watched them line up without intimidation against other varsity squads and he knew they could hold their own this season.
Seventy-five sophomores, juniors and seniors came out to play for Flathead this year, including a strong senior class of 26. The varsity roster, led by all-state junior quarterback Brock Osweiler, has 52 players. Russell McCarvel, in his first year as Flathead’s head coach, said he is pleased with the overall turnout, including freshmen, though he didn’t know what he expected.
“It was kind of a mystery,” he said. “If you think about it, we have two new classes.”
The two classes new to Flathead football are the freshmen, of course, and the sophomores as well because they were at Kalispell Junior High last year. McCarvel said only 22 sophomores tried out this year and only (15) are on the roster. Flathead had 48 sophomores last year.
“The school split affected the numbers,” McCarvel said.
But McCarvel is excited about his senior class. “We can win with that senior class.”
The senior class will anchor a team that McCarvel says will be tough and physical, qualities that will be put to the test immediately in its first game against a physical CMR team. McCarvel said his team has battled relatively few injuries, the starting lineups are basically in order and the kids are ready to play.
“We want to be a hard-nosed football team,” McCarvel said.
Glacier Athletic Director Mark Dennehy said he presented a “cross-town philosophy” at a parents meeting last week to establish a framework for how athletes should treat the two high school system. Among the philosophy’s eight main points are “friendly, competitive, cooperative and second favorite team.”
Dennehy said 85 players tried out for football at Glacier this year. The varsity roster has 49 players, including 30 sophomores. Bennett said these sophomores are prepared to carry the varsity load. Some will get playing time on the sophomore team as well.
“They understand, ‘We’re the varsity squad now,’” he said.
Among those varsity sophomores is Shay Smithwick-Hann, the team’s starting quarterback. Besides Smithwick-Hann, Bennett said he’s anxious to see who else emerges as a standout on his squad.
“Every game is going to be, wow, a learning experience,” Bennett said. “It’s going to take a little while to build this.”
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