Longtime rivals Belgrade and Butte Central will go through a few rounds of getting-to-know-yous Friday as they kick off the high school football season with a 7 p.m. Class A non-conference game on Bob Green Field at Montana Tech. (Radio: KOPR, 94.1 FM or online)
Both good programs graduated standouts from their successful teams of a year ago and both bring back good returnees to be mixed with plenty of willing newcomers. The unknowns might be of even a little more mystery than would be normal for a season-opener.
“Before the first game is when you’re the least prepared,” 27th-year Butte Central head coach Don Peoples Jr. said. “You don’t have any scouting reports.”
Both teams reached the playoffs last year, the Maroons going all the way to the state Class A championship game where they fell to Dillon 29-28 on the Bob Green turf. The BC team lost its opener at Belgrade, then won 10 games in a row before the title tilt. Butte Central had defeated Dillon earlier, in the regular season to capture the Southwestern A Conference championship.
Belgrade is the defending Central A Conference champ and has a good nucleus for head coach Eric Kinnaman to build around this season. It is headed by 6-foot-4, 230-pound senior Derek Marks, who was an All-State tight end last year and is already a Montana State commit. He will likely see some duty there again this season, but is also being looked at at quarterback and running back on the offensive unit. He is also a force on defense.
Peoples said he expects to see Belgrade use three quarterbacks in Friday’s game, and a report from the Panthers’ camp said they might rotate four. All candidates are good athletes and likely to be on the field at some spot, anyway. The defense might not know who is going to take the snap for Belgrade until the Panthers break huddle and line up for the next play.
“They have five or six kids who played a lot of football for them last year,” Peoples said, adding that Marks and fellow senior Evan Luhrsen are among the leaders.
Luhrsen is also a strong runner. Others who have been in the QB role this summer preseason are senior Tanner Campbell and junior Zack Spady.
Kinnaman was quoted in the Belgrade press as saying, “All four of those, I think, are going to see playing time in most all the games just because they bring different things to the table.”
Belgrade lost 48-17 to Dillon in the second round of last year’s playoffs and has defeated Butte Central three years in a row heading into Friday’s clash.
The Maroons lost some standouts from last year, but return some stars, as well. Among them is senior running back and defensive end Kyle Harrington, who rushed for almost 1,500 yards last year while winning All-State honors. Other returnees with post-season honors are seniors Cole Harper, Cal Hollow, Kyle Schulte and Jake Michelotti.
“We have a lot of kids back,” Peoples said. “We have 23 kids back who played in the state championship game last year. We felt we were three inches away from winning a state championship last year and so our motto in camp has kind of been ‘Unfinished Business.’ “
A first down with the lead late in the game would have wrapped up the crown for the Maroons, but it was not attained.
A lot of the BC players back this year were special-teamers, but a number also saw first-line duty.
The biggest position to fill is quarterback where speedy junior Tanner Kump will take over. The 6-foot, 180-pounder made his mark last year in the state semifinals when, on the kick return team, he picked up a squibbed boot and raced 58 yards for a touchdown just before halftime as Butte Central beat Whitefish to reach the state A championship game.
Kump has also been throwing well in practice. Harper, 6-1 and 170 pounds, is the top receiver back and also the backup quarterback. Others in the receiver rotation include the 5-9, 175-pound Hollow, 5-10, 165-pound junior Sam Johnston and 6-3, 200-pound junior Nate McGree. Six-foot, 180-pound senior Colin McArthur will be at tight end.
Hollow, also a third-year starting free safety and a top returnman, may also be used at running back. McGree may also carry the ball, as will 5-10, 185-pound sophomore Ryan Moodry.
Graduations and some injuries have created some shuffling on the offensive line. Returnees include 6-0, 240-pound senior Jake Michelotti, 5-11, 285-pound junior Ryan Richards and 6-3, 265-pound senior Ethan St. John. All were starters last year. Schulte, a 6-2, 205-pound college prospect, has moved from tight end/fullback to tackle to help shore up the blocking brigade.
“Coach Doug thinks it’s a promotion to be moved to the line,” Peoples said with a laugh, referring to his brother, the team’s offensive line coach and offensive coordinator.
Dylan Shea, a 5-10, 175-pound sophomore, will be at center.
“Playing for the state championship last year got us four extra weeks of football,” Peoples said while talking about the experience of the team. “Tanner played a lot of snaps.”
Some fine-tuning of the defense has taken place this week and the pass rush could be hot with the speed Harrington and Schulte bring to the end spots. Schulte moved to end from outside linebacker where he started for two years. Michelotti, St. John and Richards will rotate on the interior. McArthur, Johnston and Moodry will be the linebackers while Harper and 5-9, 150-pound junior Ryan Ashby play at the corners. Hollow and McGree will be the safeties.
Once speedster Blake Burton is healed from a broken foot suffered earlier in the summer, he will help the Maroons somewhere in the alignments.
Schulte will handle the punting chores and BC is still developing a kicker. Archie Petritz suffered a knee injury earlier this week and will be out for an undetermined time. Senior Tyler Kump, older brother of the quarterback and a member of the school’s golf team, turned out also for football this week to also maybe work on becoming the kicker. He needs more practices to be eligible.
The moving of some players that both Belgrade and Butte Central have seemed to do this offseason is a necessity at this level of high school football, Peoples said.
“You have to find a way to get your top 11 players on the field,” he said.
The schedule will have a different look this year with longtime rival Anaconda leaving the slate due to being reclassified Class B for Montana high school sports. A non-conference game at Polson now fills what would have been Anaconda’s slot on the slate. Browning and Laurel are new to the schedule this year, replacing Billings Central and Livingston.
The sport has been a good one for the Maroons. They’ve missed the playoffs only five times during Peoples’ tenure.
Butte Central Starters
Head Coach — Don Peoples Jr.
Center — Dylan Shea, 5-9, 175, sophomore. Guards — Ryan Richards, 5-11, 285, junior, and Jake Michelotti, 6-0, 240, senior. Tackles — Ethan St. John, 6-3, 265, senior, and Kyle Schulte, 6-2, 205, senior. Tight end — Colin McArthur, 6-0, 190, senior. Receivers — Cole Harper, 6-1, 170, senior, Cal Hollow, 5-9, 175, senior, and Nate McGree, 6-3, 200, junior, or Sam Johnston, 5-10, 165, junior. Fullback — Ryan Moodry, 5-10, 185, sophomore. Running back — Kyle Harrington, 6-0, 195, senior. Quarterback — Tanner Kump, 6-0, 180, junior.
Tackles — Ethan St. John, 6-3, 265, senior, and Jake Michelotti, 6-0, 240, senior, or Ryan Richards, 5-11, 285, junior. Ends — Kyle Harrington, 6-0, 195, senior, and Kyle Schulte, 6-2, 205, senior. Linebackers — Colin McArthur, 6-0, 190, senior, Sam Johnston, 5-10, 165, junior, and Ryan Moodry, 5-10, 185, sophomore. Cornerbacks — Ryan Ashby, 5-9, 150, junior, and Cole Harper, 6-1, 170, senior. Strong safety — Nate McGree, 6-3, 200, junior. Free safety — Cal Hollow, 5-9, 175, senior.
Aug. 28 — Belgrade, 7 p.m. Sept. 4 — at Browning, 7 p.m. Sept. 11 — at Hardin, 7 p.m. Sept. 18 — Laurel (homecoming), 7 p.m. Sept. 25 — at Stevensville, 7 p.m. Oct. 2 — Corvallis, 7 p.m. Oct. 9 — at Polson, 7 p.m. Oct. 16 — at Hamilton, 7 p.m. Oct. 23 — at Dillon, 7 p.m. Oct. 31 — State Class A playoffs, first round. Nov. 7 — State Class A playoffs, quarterfinals. Nov. 14 — State Class A playoffs, semifinals. Nov. 21 — State Class A playoffs, championship game. 1 comment