Last year, the Glacier Knights got a big monkey off their backs: a 33-game losing streak, which started in 2004. This year, the Knights look to get another monkey off their backs. Kalispell’s semi-professional football team will try to win its first playoff game.
The Knights finished last year’s regular season with a 6-2 record before losing in the first round of the Rocky Mountain Football League playoffs to the Utah Valley Desperadoes in Salt Lake City. Their only two regular-season losses both came to Great Falls, the team that finished first in the AA North division.
Glacier’s second-place divisional finish last season elevated the team from cellar dweller to contender. Much of the revival can be attributed to Will Wheat, the team’s general manager. Under the leadership of Wheat, the roster has jumped from fewer than 20 players to more than 50 this year. Game attendance has risen sharply as well.
Until this year, Wheat has served as both the general manager and head coach. But this season, he has relinquished head coach duties to his father, Keith, who has been an assistant in past years. Wheat will still be the team’s general manager, assisting at practices and games.
Wheat said this year’s Knights are even better than last year’s. Most of last season’s starters are back, while an infusion of young players will bring fresh faces to the roster. Several players recently graduated from Kalispell high schools.
“This year’s team is faster and the guys are bigger,” Wheat said.
Also, Derrick Pluff, a record-breaking running back at the University of Montana Western, has committed to play for the Knights. He will complement a backfield that already includes AA North’s leading rusher Mike Kuehne. Kuehne rushed for 668 yards last year, to lead all Rocky Mountain Football League AA rushers.
“The backfield is going to be lethal this year,” Wheat said.
The Knights kick off their season on April 10 at 4 p.m. against the Missoula Phoenix at the University of Montana’s Washington-Grizzly Stadium. The following week is a bye and then the Knights get into the meat of their schedule. Their final game of the year is June 12 at Columbia Falls High School at 3 p.m.
Most of the Knights come from the Flathead Valley, though a few are from Canada. Last year, several players made the trip up from Missoula, but they banded together to form a new team this season: the Clark Fork Rush. Glacier also has a couple of new coaches. They will take their cues from first-year head coach Keith Wheat.
The Knights play their home games at Columbia Falls High School and practice at Evergreen Junior High School. They are an ensemble of young and old, experienced and inexperienced. They have day jobs, ranging from landscapers to attorneys. Jeff Greenwell, a defense attorney, is one of the top quarterbacks in the league.
The players fresh out of high school include Kieran Hagen, a 300-pound lineman from Glacier High School and Phil Heimerl, a speedster from Glacier. Wheat said Heimerl and Hagen are expected to make immediate impacts.
“We’re a good team this year,” Wheat said.
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