When it comes to Class B football in Montana, you’ve been able to pencil Fairfield into the state championship game the past five years. The Eagles finally got over the hump last season, capturing their first state title since 1982.
“I think it obviously lightens the mood a little bit,” coach Les Meyer said of returning to the practice field as the defending state champion. “However, it’s high school football, and so you don’t get the opportunity to recruit. So each team brings its own set of challenges, issues, and goals. I do think it’s in the back of everybody’s mind. When people are going through drills, I don’t think they’re thinking about it anymore. Hopefully we’re focusing on the task at hand.”
The task for Meyer and his coaching staff this season is a tall one. The Eagles only return a handful of starters and only have (at most) six seniors on this year’s squad. Three of those seniors are tight end/linebacker Nick Drishinski, offensive/defensive lineman Josh Huffman, and quarterback/defensive back Tucker Meyer.
Drishinski and Huffman are three-year starters, while Tucker Meyer will be taking over full-time quarterbacking duties after Tracy Brady graduated in the spring.
“Up front we have some decent size and kids with good athletic ability, but they’re untested,” explained Les Meyer, who is entering his 16th season at the helm. “We have some skill guys – again – that have some talent but not very much experience.”
Despite lacking experience, Les Meyer has liked what he’s seen out of his team. They’re a competitive group that is willing to work hard and accept coaching.
“For our team, the learning curve is going to have to be very steep,” added Les Meyer. “Hopefully by midseason we are a better team than we were Week One. It’s going to be a process.
“The team is so young that they’re going to learn a ton from their mistakes. If we minimize turning the ball over – and the bottom line is always trying to play defense – then this team has a chance to grow up quickly.”
While Fairfield is replacing an outstanding graduating class (which included Brady, Collin Allen, and Bo Harris), two teams in particular have strong, experienced teams back on the field for 2012. Malta and Manhattan are the presumptive preseason favorites in the class after both teams lost to Fairfield in the playoffs last season.
It starts with the quarterbacks, and the Mustangs and Tigers have a couple of good ones. Kendall Denham, who earned all-state honors in 2011, will be back under center for Malta, while Quinn McQueary is back for Manhattan.
To round out a preseason top five, Les Meyer included Red Lodge and Missoula Loyola, while debating between Baker, Bigfork, and Choteau for No. 5.
“I think, although Baker lost a couple pretty good ones, they’re going to be more experienced this year,” Les Meyer said. “Choteau, in our league, I think has a ton of seniors, so they’re going to be pretty talented. I think Bigfork – they had an injury to their quarterback last year. I think they’ll have a little bit different-looking offense than in years past.”
Note: At the end of each classification’s “preview,” I’ll include a list of five teams to watch this season. I won’t reveal my predictions until later in August.
Five teams to watch:
Malta Mustangs - Malta has a good core of returning starters after only losing one game in 2011. Kendall Denham and Tucker Schye each earned all-state honors for Scott King’s squad.
Manhattan Tigers - Like Malta, Manhattan has a solid group of starters back from last year’s team. The Tigers again play a tough non-conference schedule, so we’ll see their merit early in the season with games against Choteau and Fairfield.
Red Lodge Rams - The Rams made the playoffs last season and are looking to build on that success. Look for Sean Sullivan to have a big year.
Huntley Project Red Devils - Guy Croy is replacing Jay Santy on the sidelines for the Red Devils and takes over an inexperienced team. The transition to his offense should be one of the more interesting storylines early in the Class B season.
Baker Spartans - Standout running back Kodee Varner graduated in the spring, but Baker has three returning starters on the offensive and defensive lines. The Spartans should make a return trip to the playoffs.