Rocky Mountain College played in the first college football game in the nation last season.
That will not be the case in 2014 for the Battlin’ Bears, but sixth-year head coach Brian Armstrong doesn’t mind.
Rocky will officially launch fall practice on Monday afternoon, with nearly 130 players — about 50 of them newcomers — expected on the field in shorts, jerseys and helmets.
While the number of players is similar to last year’s turnout, the Bears’ timetable for practice will be a little less hectic.
Rocky’s season-opening game at Dickinson State on Saturday, Aug. 30 is about three weeks away. Last year, the Bears had just two weeks to get ready to play the University of Jamestown on Aug. 23 in Miles City.
On the eve of fall drills this season, Armstrong said he is looking forward to having the extra week to prepare his team for the nonconference game against the Blue Hawks.
“I think we’ve got a lot of returners, a lot of veteran guys coming back, which is always good,” he said. “But then we’ve still got to shore up the O-line position, the linebacker position and develop depth at some other positions, where we need to find out what we have, too ...
“This year we have a little bit more time, and don’t feel quite as rushed. I think that will be good.”
The Bears’ offense and defense will take turns lifting in the weight room on Monday morning before getting on the field at 3:45 p.m. for a “typical” two-hour workout, emphasizing fundamentals, Armstrong said.
The Frontier Conference school is planning to conduct two practices in half-pads on Tuesday, and will be in full gear by Wednesday.
“I’m just excited to get guys here and do something besides paperwork, scripts and practice schedules and actually get outside,” Armstrong said.
Rocky compiled an 8-4 overall record last fall and placed second in the Frontier behind perennial power Carroll College.
The Bears, who also advanced to the NAIA playoffs for the first time since 1999 and finished the season ranked 10th nationally, have 16 starters back overall and are predicted by the conference coaches in preseason balloting to finish second to the Fighting Saints.
“Again, it’s a little bit similar to last year in that, number one, I think we’ve got real good people in our program,” Armstrong said. “It’s fun to go out to practice, and we’ve got some talent to go with that. I don’t know that I’d say we’re the most talented team in the league, but I don’t think I’d say we’re the least either.
“I just think that we’ve got kids that have had a little taste of success, not at the level we want to be yet, but continuing to lay bricks and do work. I think they’re excited to get back to work and see if we can continue to build on what we’re trying to do here.”
In what will be Rocky’s 66th year of playing football, the Bears, for starters, will be striving for a third consecutive winning season, which would be a first for the program.
NOTES: Rocky’s new players reported to camp on Saturday. “We’ll practice twice with them on Sunday,” Armstrong said. The Bears’ returning players will not practice, but will do conditioning tests on Sunday night.