By Bruce Sayler
Entering his 35th year as a head football coach, all at Butte Central, Don Peoples Jr. knows all about the challenges of the job. One this year is all too familiar.
Peoples said Central enrollment is growing at the lower grades and so bolstered rosters seeming to be marching his way. This year’s football turnout is one of the better ones in recent years for the Maroons. The list is 35 players.
There is a “but,” though. A third of the team is made up of freshmen without a second of high school football play yet in their beings. So, yes, again, the Maroons are young. Five seniors hardly balance out the experience measure.
The seniors are good ones, for sure. So are so many of the juniors and sophomores. How the freshmen are to perform remains the mystery. They are needed.
The BC team scrimmaged Saturday morning at Montana Tech in anticipation of Friday’s opener against Ronan, a non-conference game set for the same Bob Green Field.
It wasn’t perfect and wasn’t expected to be and was complicated even more by two linemen being sick, causing some role-changing in the trenches.
“I’m still having fun being a football coach,” Peoples insisted after the session while turf temps were heating and wildfire haze hung in the air. “It’s still fun being around the kids and being around the game, and the other coaches.
“I think we know how to build a program.”
Seemingly, they do a lot of it every year.
The returnees shined on Saturday. Senior Jack Keeley, a second-year starter, looked fully recovered from a shoulder injury that cost him the last half of last season. In the public practice, he threw touchdown passes to Zane Moodry, Jake Tauscher, Justus McGee, Aidan Ossello and Colt Hassler. Moodry caught five TDs in the drills and Tauscher snared three.
Moodry, Tauscher and linemen Canyon Kibler and Tanner Keith join Keeley as the team’s seniors. Moodry has moved to wide receiver and defensive end from tight end and linebacker. Tauscher returns in the secondary and takes over a receiver spot on offense. Kibler will be back in the lines after his recovery from last fall’s midseason ACL surgery.
“Game two or game three,” Peoples said about when Kibler will likely be ready to go.
McGee, a junior, saw a lot of duty last year at running back and linebacker. Ossello is also a junior and Hassler is moving into the tight end spot as a sophomore. There is promise.
“I think we have some really good football players,” Peoples said, “and we need some of the young guys to step up, too.”
He agreed that the dozen freshmen on the roster make for likely the most he’s had out for the team.
“It’s the biggest freshman turnout we’ve had in a while,” Peoples said. “We have some who will step in and be special team players and backup players this year. We’re feeling good about our numbers this year.
“Sure, it would be nice to have another five or 10 kids, but, this way, kids get to play. There is no playing time issue at Butte Central.”
The line has good size and a veteran presence with the returns of Kibler, Keith and junior Michael Peck, all of whom performed in starting roles last year.
“We have some big kids on the offensive line and I think we have good skill people,” Peoples said. “I really liked the way our running backs ran the ball today.”
Keeley along with backs McGee and Ossello all showed good ability lugging the ball. The receiving corps looked talented, too, led by Moodry and Tauscher along with sophomore Ryan Peoples and Hassler. Tauscher and Ossello looked to be good catchers out of the backfield, too.
The defense had its moments, too. Junior Coy Campbell and Tauscher both had interceptions that would’ve gone for touchdowns if not for being held up by the coaches, too far to run on a hot day of practice. Sophomore Kelton Keane also picked off a pass and Keith and Moodry both brought the pass rush.
Peoples and sophomore Tony Stajcar, who also played well on defense, will be Keeley’s backups at quarterback this year.
The kicking game looked capable with both Tauscher and Hassler showing ability on placekicks and Moodry returning to boom punts.
“I think this team can compete with anybody on our schedule,” Peoples said. “We’re going to work our tails off to get better.”