BIGFORK — Before his first game as starting quarterback everyone was asking Colter Trent, “Are you ready?”
The question was just. After all, the Bigfork senior had not stepped on the football field for a game in almost two years. He had never even thrown a varsity pass. And then there were the injuries. Trent’s last memory of playing ended with him blowing out his knee. Six months later he blew it out again trying to play basketball.
Suddenly playing sports again seemed unlikely.
But two surgeries and a long road later, Colter Trent is back. And there is no doubt he’s ready.
“I’ve had a long, long time to prepare for this,” the 18-year-old said recently before practice at Bigfork High School.
The undefeated Vikings are on another winning streak this fall and it’s thanks largely to new players like Trent who have been preparing for an opportunity to carry on the school’s burgeoning gridiron tradition.
Bigfork only has three returning starters on both offense and defense from last year’s semifinal team — senior leaders Austin Jordt, Chris Landon and Blake Weimer. Yet the Vikings are 5-0 and have been ranked as high as fourth in the Associated Press Class B Power Poll.
The group has plowed past Ronan (35-8), Deer Lodge (32-6), Conrad (42-0) and Troy (49-6). Bigfork also earned a forfeit victory after Plains failed to field enough eligible players.
Fourth-year head coach Todd Emslie isn’t surprised by the Vikes’ success, but he admits that there were question marks entering this season. That’s what happens when you graduate 14 seniors, including four college prospects, like all-state running back Cody Dopps and all-state lineman Dillon Fraley, both of whom are playing at Montana State University.
“We had a lot of positions that we had to fill,” Emslie said of this season’s team. “We’re young in a lot of those positions but I’m really happy with the way the kids have responded and stepped up.”
Through Trent’s three games as starting quarterback he has thrown for 794 yards and 14 touchdowns and only four interceptions. His favorite target has been Landon, who has 396 receiving yards and six TDs. Jordt has 250 total yards and four TDs. Boyd Rieke is leading the rushing attack with 509 yards and three TDs.
“At the beginning of this season I don’t think we had any idea where we would be,” Trent said.
The same goes for him, too. The summer before his junior year Trent was going through workout drills at a football camp in Ronan. He scrambled out of the pocket, took one step and felt his right knee pop. He’d never had a major injury before, and he continued playing. But his knee kept giving out to weakness.
After camp he went to Flathead Orthopedics in Kalispell, and that’s when the bad news hit. Torn ACL. Bruised MCL. Season’s over.
Trent underwent surgery, hoping he would at least be able to salvage a basketball season. He hit the weight room and rehabbed. Six months later he stepped onto the court.
During the third practice, he drove to the baseline, attempted a crossover and crumpled over. This time the bad news stung even worse. Torn ACL. Torn MCL. Bruised LCL. Two days before Christmas he had another surgery.
“I had never had a day in my life where I wasn’t doing something with athletics,” he said. “Every week going to practice watching and sitting at the end of the bench, it was rough. But it taught me some good lessons.”
Instead of being bitter and losing his passion for sports, he nurtured better work ethic. He also gained perspective, albeit the hard way.
“You can’t take any game or any practice for granted,” he said. “You just have to go 100 percent all the time because you never know when your last practice or your last game might be.”
All these months removed from surgery and rehab, he still remembers that lesson wholeheartedly. In fact, as his coach describes it, Trent now embodies that lesson.
“He’s always got a smile on his face,” Emslie said. “After a whole year gone, every play that he’s on the field he knows it’s almost like a little gift.”
His teammates seem to notice Trent’s renewed vigor and appreciation.
“I think they’re inspired by that,” Emslie said. “I really do.”
Bigfork’s athletic programs have become factories for inspiration in recent years. The cross country and soccer programs are independently supported through fundraising instead of school sponsorship. The town has helped keep the programs afloat while the teams keep community pride soaring through excellence.
Then there’s the football program, which has experienced a storybook rise. Between 2005 and 2008, the Vikings were winless. In 2009 low enrollment led Bigfork to move to Class B. The number of students playing sports had dropped and morale had hit rock bottom.
“We just tried to get them to hang on and play, but it wasn’t a lot of fun for them,” said Emslie, who took over as head coach in 2009.
Continuing the four-year winless streak, the team lost three ugly games in a row to begin 2009. In the fourth game on the road, Conrad scored 43 points on Bigfork in the first half. The Vikings gathered at halftime.
“You could say we had a ‘come to Jesus’ meeting,” Emslie said. “That was when it began. We started to play. That’s when the kids decided that they were going to do it.”
Bigfork scored a touchdown on the first play of the second half. On their next series, the Vikes scored again. Bigfork still eventually lost. But the transformation had begun. The following game, against an undefeated ranked Plains team, Bigfork won a milestone victory in overtime.
A year later the Vikings were playing in the state championship game on their home field. Trailing in the final seconds on fourth down, senior Travis Knoll scored the game-winning touchdown against Fairfield to win the first football state championship in school history.
The success continued from there. Bigfork roared back into the playoffs last year and fell behind 20 points in the first round of the playoffs. Led by a workmanlike performance from Dopps, the team rallied back to win 35-26.
The Vikings eventually lost to Malta in the semifinals, but the heartbeat of tradition lived on. It still does. Players like Trent are more ready than ever to keep it alive.
“It’s crazy to think four years ago we had a season where we didn’t win a game and now we’re going to the playoffs every year and we’re making a run this year,” Trent said, “and people look at their schedule and see Bigfork and say ‘We have to get ready for that game.’”
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.