Glacier High School football coach Grady Bennett has been around the gridiron for 33 years, but he still enters each season with new themes to complement his coaching philosophy.
This year, at the start of the football season, Bennett gathered his team after the first long practice and explained his goal for each player of the team.
“All season, from day one, I’ve been teaching and preaching that it’s all about the journey, not the destination. That’s one of our key core covenants we start our program with each year,” Bennett told the Beacon. “Our goal as a program, and they had journals they kept all year to reflect on this theme, was ‘close the gap.’ Get 1% better every day to become the very best that you can be.”
Friday marks the 100th day since Bennett first gave that speech on an afternoon in August.
Friday, the Wolfpack is en route to Bozeman to take on the Hawks in the Class AA title game.
Friday, the team will find out if getting 1% better each day will be enough to bring home the second championship trophy in program history.
It’s Go Time
On Wednesday of state championship week, a drizzle of rain sent the Wolfpack indoors on the penultimate practice of the 2023 season. Offense drilled in the school’s gymnasium, lineman stacked plates onto squat racks and cranked music in the weight room, players ran sprints in the padded wrestling room.
“It’s really awesome to finish out my high school football career going out in the biggest game of the season, the biggest game in the state,” senior lineman Rylan Heil said. “At the start of every season, we always want to play in state, but this year we just knew that if we played the way we’re capable of playing we were going to make it.”
Heil said the defining moment for him came at the team’s pre-season camp, when in a series of scrimmages against a top Idaho school, the Wolfpack “just never quit. We made them back down. That’s never happened in a camp I’ve been to.”
In the 16 seasons since the school opened in 2007, Glacier has made three appearances in the title game — most recently in 2016 — with just one victory in 2014. The Wolfpack began the 2023 campaign as the top ranked Class AA school, according to 406mtsports.com rankings, but in week three blew a 21-point lead and lost to Butte 28-27.
“That was one of the worst losses of my entire career. I’ve never been a part of a 21-point meltdown. It was just disastrous,” Bennett said. “And yet, I’m still thankful for that loss. I think it taught these kids, and it taught our team, things that we needed to learn. Maybe we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for that loss. All I could say to the team afterwards was ‘this won’t define us.’”
In the other 10 weeks of the season, Glacier has been nearly flawless.
Three times the defense kept opponents off the scoreboard entirely, three more times they allowed just a single score. On offense the Wolfpack has averaged 41.7 points per game behind the arm of sophomore QB Jackson Presley, outscoring opponents 460-111.
“Coming here, you never really know what to expect with a new team, but this team just surrounded me, and automatically became a brotherhood,” said Presley, who moved from California this year. “I’m so blessed to have a team like this around me, that really just makes me look good.”
The Strength of the Wolf is the Pack
Across the board, the Wolfpack is stacked with talent.
“It’s really nice to have the athletes that we have,” Presley said. “We have a fantastic line that keeps me off the ground, the receivers will go up and get every single ball I throw, and the running backs can take it all the way to the endzone.”
Presley leads the state in passing yards (2,733) and leads Class AA in touchdowns (27). Senior receiver Cohen Kastelitz has reeled in 1,206 yards, the most in the state, and cashed in 12 of those passes for points. Junior Kobe Dorcheus has rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 13 TDs, while senior Kash Goicechea has snagged three interceptions and returned three kicks for touchdowns this season.
Of course, the championship will not be easy. The two best teams made it through the playoffs to face off.
Bozeman’s quarterback Kellen Harrison sits just one spot below Presley in nearly every category, tying him in completions. He’s tossed 20 TD passes, most to Montana State University commit Rocky Lencioni. The Hawks won their seventh state title in 2019 and are a perfect 11-0 on the season. Plus, they have homefield advantage. The Pack will spend most of the day on a bus, with thoughts focused on the game ahead.
“It’s going to come down to which team rises up and plays their best football on that night,” Bennett said. “Of course, we’re not overconfident, that would be insane. But I’m confident that these guys, this team, has yet to play their best football, and we have a plan to do that Friday.”
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