There’s a certain swagger to the walk of linebackers.
It’s the same on most any football team, as linebackers need to have size like the down linemen in front of them, as well as the speed of the defensive backs behind them. Add to that a strong desire to find the ball and run down the player carrying it, and the walk is just part of the package.
Butte High’s linebacker corps is no different, as the Bulldog crew relishes laying pads to opponents trying to advance the ball.
The Bulldog defenders back it up, however, with good old-fashioned hard work.
Nate Mattson, Mason Woods, Blake Kraus, Bo Taylor make up the starting four, while Jake Dennehy recently had to relinquish his starting role among the bunch due to an injured shoulder. Dennehy continues to cover punting and kicking duties for the Bulldogs. All are seniors, save Woods, who is a junior.
The group described a solid regimen of practice, film and weights, and an expectation of hard work from linebackers coach and defensive coordinator Brian Arntson.
“He can be a hard head, but he knows his stuff,” Dennehy said. “He makes us better players and we love him for it.”
“He’s definitely not easy on us,” Kraus agreed.
“Coach is one of those people who are quiet, but he means what he says,” Taylor observed.
The weight room is a familiar setting for the group, and they spent much of their summer working out there.
“Football is definitely not a seasonal sport,” Kraus said. “We’re working all year every year since we were freshmen.”
Dennehy noted that the players had all been at school since 7 a.m., when they arrived to lift weights, until practice and team meetings concluded more than 12 hours later.
“We were in the weight room the Monday after our last game last season,” he said, adding that very few days the place was open have been missed by any of the players.
“It’s kind of our second home,” Mattson said.
The Bulldogs remained at No. 5 in the rankings this week, despite owning a win over the No. 2 team, CMR. The linebackers said they’re not too concerned with the lack of respect, and just work harder.
“We practice like we’re the underdog, then we go out and get the win,” Taylor said. “That shows how hard work pays off.”
Butte High’s defense has had an up-and-down season, as it gave up 112 points in Butte’s two road games – both on the sprint turf of Daylis Stadium in Billings. The Bulldogs lost the first of the two 55-48 to Billings Skyview, then hung on for a 62-57 win over Billings Senior last weekend.
The Bulldogs had to play from behind in the loss to the Falcons, but had to withstand a furious comeback attempt from the Broncs. Both were learning experiences.
“I think we got ahead of ourselves,” Kraus said, as the Bulldogs pulled to a 49-21 lead with 16 minutes left in the Senior game. The sizable advantage almost wasn’t enough, as the Broncs scored on each of their next five possessions to give the fifth-ranked Bulldogs a scare.
“We played like the game was over,” Woods said. “And it wasn’t.”
Consequently, the focus this week has been on finishing, Kraus said.
With Bozeman squarely in the Bulldogs’ sights this week, the linebackers are looking for a measure of redemption in what is the senior year for most.
“All four years of high school we haven’t beaten Bozeman once,” Dennnehy said. “But we haven’t played them at Naranche.”
The Bulldogs’ new-old home field adjacent to the school has been the site of marked success, as Butte has gone 7-1 in games played there since last season’s reopening of the facility.
“It’s insane,” Taylor said. “It feels like the people there are right on top of you. It’s so loud.”
“It’s like no feeling I’ve felt before,” Mattson said. “I love it.”
The players, the seniors especially, realize that their games at Naranche are numbered, and coming to an end quickly.
“It’s scary thinking about it,” Taylor said. “It makes us want to give everything we have when we go out there.”
With countless hours spent in the weight room, on the practice field and in the coaches’ office reviewing film, the group has formed strong bonds, and maybe some unlikely bonds, as well.
“I think the linebackers and the offensive linemen spend more time with each other than we do with our own family,” Dennehy said. “We’re always with those guys.”
The five spoke of good-natured “smack” talk that goes on between the two groups during practice and the friendly rivalries that have formed.
“We’re like a band of brothers,” Taylor said. “We do everything together and we really stick together.”