Flathead Seeks to Regain Winning Ways

With a new head coach, the Braves begin a new era and look to restore a once proud tradition

By Dillon Tabish

At 5-foot-8, 165 pounds, Kyle Samson was the smallest player on the 2003 Montana Grizzlies football team. That didn’t matter. He held his own on the gridiron and his reputation preceded him — as a senior quarterback at Helena Capital the year before, Samson passed for 2,000 yards and rushed for 1,200 yards, combining for 34 touchdowns and winning the Montana Gatorade Player of the Year award ahead of such prolific talents as Lex Hilliard.

“Something my father taught me at a young age is you don’t have to be the biggest guy to be successful. You have to have the biggest heart. You have to outwork people,” he said.

That’s the message Samson is now preaching to his team at Flathead High School. As the Braves’ new head coach, Samson has the task of rebuilding a once proud football program that has struggled in recent years. Flathead’s last appearance in the Class AA playoffs was in 2011, and following a 3-7 season a year ago, head coach Russell McCarvel resigned after seven seasons.

Enter Samson, who served on the football staff at MSU-Northern in Havre for seven years and is now returning to the Class AA ranks he once dominated as a player. “I can’t be happier with my decision to come here and everybody at Flathead and in this valley have been very supportive of me,” he said. “I’m excited to be a Brave.”

Samson hit the ground running as soon as he arrived with his wife and two kids in late June. He scheduled regular workouts in the weight room and traveled to camps with returning players and coaches. He also scheduled a handful of community volunteer events, taking players throughout town to help with children’s events and other civic engagements.

“I really believe you can’t be great in one part of your life and not in the other. We’re really talking about our kids as a whole, as a student athlete, being better in the classroom, being better at home and better in the community. And then being a better football player,” he said.

FHScheduleOn the field, the Braves have a few key returning standouts, including quarterback Easton Johnson, who will be leading a new style of offense, dubbed by Samson as “power spread.”

“We’re not going to talk about the past. We’re just going to move forward. I told all the kids, they have a clean slate with me,” he said. “Every kid will have to earn a job. It’s a new year and a new system.”

To help lead the rebuilding process, the new head coach has enlisted one of his close friends and former high school foes: Hilliard. The former star running back at Flathead has spent the past several years playing in the NFL for various teams. Now recovering from an injury he suffered a year ago, Hilliard is back home helping rebuild the tradition of excellence as an assistant coach, along with several other former Braves.

“We’re not worried about how much talent we have or how big we are. We feel that if we can be physically and mentally tough, and work harder than anybody, we’ll have a chance,” Samson said. “We’re really priding ourselves in being the ultimate team and playing for each other.”

He added, with excitement in his voice, “They’re hungry. They want to be successful and now it’s my job to hopefully steer them in the right direction.”

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