This time last year both Taylor Hulslander and Matt Tokarz were sophomores playing mostly junior varsity football.
Today, the juniors are two of the top varsity offensive players in the state.
Glacier’s Hulslander is the No. 2 passing quarterback in Class AA, averaging roughly 249 yards per game. In seven games, he’s totaled 1,595 yards, 19 touchdowns and only five interceptions.
Across town at Flathead, Tokarz is the state’s No. 2 overall offensive player with 1,742 yards, or about 228 per game. What Tokarz doesn’t have in passing stats compared to Hulslander he makes up for in rushing. Tokarz has tallied 619 yards on the ground combined with 1,123 passing yards. He has 19 total TDs (14 passing, 5 rushing) and 11 interceptions. Following Tokarz’s lead, the Braves’ rushing attack is one of the best in the state.
“They’re both good, good quarterbacks. It’s neat to see,” Glacier head coach and former Flathead high school quarterback Grady Bennett said.
With Hulslander leading the way, the Wolfpack (6-1) are off to the best start in the program’s five-year history. Ranked third in the latest Class AA Associated Press poll and tied for second in the league, Glacier has already guaranteed itself a trip to the playoffs for the third year in a row.
At Flathead, despite a two-game losing streak, the Braves (3-4) are having their best season since 2008, when another standout quarterback led the team to a 6-5 record. With three weeks left in the regular season, Flathead has already won as many games this year as it was the last two combined.
The list of quarterbacks who have played in Kalispell over the years is an impressive one. There’s Bennett, who was first-team all state and led the Braves to the semifinals in 1986 before moving on to break records at the University of Montana. There’s Pete Shull, Billy Henderson, Matt Reiger and Kerr Luhman. There’s Clay Lindsay, the all-time passing leader at Flathead who snapped Helena Capital’s 23-game win streak in the 2003 playoffs with a last-second 38-yard TD pass. There’s Shay Smithwick-Hann, Glacier’s all-time leading QB and current Montana Grizzly, Mike Reilly and Brock Osweiler.
Even in their first seasons, both Hulslander and Tokarz are already showing similarities to their predecessors.
Bennett, who coached at Flathead for 16 years prior to Glacier, compares Hulslander to Reilly.
A 2002 FHS graduate who went on to break records at Central Washington University and earn stints in the NFL, Reilly was 6-3 and slender like Hulslander, who is listed at 6-1, 160 pounds. Reilly was not physically imposing but was a student of the game, Bennett said, which is why his career continues today in the Canadian Football League with the BC Lions.
“All quarterbacks have to love watching film, they have to love film study and play review. But there’s a few that can’t get enough and it’s almost like you have to tell them ‘no more,’” Bennett said. “Taylor’s that way and Mike Reilly was that way.”
Bennett also said the two players have the same demeanor on the field.
“Mike was really calm and in control. Nothing ever really rattled him,” Bennett said. “That’s been another thing about Taylor. He’s unfazed. Nothing gets to him.”
Against top-ranked and undefeated Helena High earlier this season, Hulslander nearly rallied the Wolfpack to an upset. The QB had two second-half TDs and finished 15-of-22 for 260 yards. Glacier lost narrowly, 30-22.
“(Hulslander) studies things so hard and processes things so well that he’s in command of our system and offense as well as any quarterback we’ve had,” Bennett said.
“It’s been a blast. I couldn’t have asked for a better season so far,” Hulslander said.
At Flathead, the legacy left by Osweiler still remains fresh in fans’ minds. Touted as one of the best quarterbacks to come out of Montana, Osweiler is currently leading 18th-ranked Arizona State University to the top of the Pac-12 South standings.
Flathead High head coach Russell McCarvel, who coached Osweiler, sees similar characteristics in his current quarterback.
“Leadership-wise (Tokarz) is a lot like Brock, that’s for sure,” McCarvel said. “He’s someone that guys rally around. But he’s different. He’s his own guy.”
Like Hulslander, Tokarz, listed at 6-1, 180 pounds, has prepared for this opportunity a long time. He spent all summer in the weight room and, for the second summer in a row, attended Peyton Manning’s camp in Louisiana. At camp, he soaked up the opportunity to talk with Boise State University QB Kellen Moore and University of Miami’s Jacory Harris.
“It was great having them be able to talk to me and be kind of like mentors. That was a great experience,” Tokarz said.
Tokarz picked up another piece of advice at the camp.
“All of them (at camp) always talked about film. ‘Film, film, film. You have to watch film,’” Tokarz said. “I never really did that and I started to and realized it helped a lot when you went out there and started playing.”
Against Great Falls earlier this season, Tokarz accounted for all the Braves’ touchdowns, passing for three and rushing for another. Flathead won 31-20.
In the annual crosstown game Tokarz nearly rallied the Braves to a huge comeback victory. Tokarz passed for two TDs and ran for another in the fourth quarter. But Glacier’s defense clamped down and Hulslander helped the offense cap the game with a TD, winning 56-44.
“Obviously it shows once in awhile that it’s my first year but it’s been great, truthfully,” Tokarz said of the season so far. “It’s nice to go out there and show Montana and all the coaches that I’m here to compete.”
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