Koni Dole gets the headlines for the Huntley Project Red Devils.
And rightfully so. After everything he’s been through – suffering a broken right leg in the last football game of the season last year, then deciding to amputate below the knee after infection set in and finally the long road back to the gridiron – Dole doesn’t mind the extra attention. His teammates don’t seem to mind, either. But make no mistake, there’s more to the Red Devils than Dole.
“We’re excited,” said second-year coach Guy Croy. “We’re going to take each game, and we’re going to go out and give it our best. And at the end of the day, we’re going to know we played a game, and we’re expecting to come out on the winning side.”
Huntley Project sputtered to a 3-5 record last season and missed the playoffs. But expectations are high this season. The Red Devils moved to District 3B, and coaches picked them to win the league in the preseason poll.
Croy said the team returns 10 starters this season, including all-conference players Dole, Tanner Miller, Tanner Oblender, Chase Mitchell and Blake Jessen.
“We do have a number of returners back, but our depth is going to be crucial – developing that as the season goes,” Croy said. “We’re miles ahead (of where we were last year at this time). It’s the second year in a system, in defense and offense. So we’re seeing that growth right now really coming along, and we’re probably midseason of where we were a year ago as far as football goes.”
The importance of the growing familiarity with Croy’s system can’t be overstated. Oblender, who plays quarterback, noted it was a big change last season transitioning from the Wing-T offense the Red Devils ran under previous coach Jay Santy to the more pro-style attack under Croy.
The running game has long been a staple of what the Red Devils try to do on offense, but they’re expanding the playbook under Croy.
“It’s a little more passing than usual,” Oblender said. “It’s been a change. We used to be a pretty run-heavy team. I mean, we still have the run game, but we pass a lot more than we used to. Second year here, we’re ready for it.”
Huntley needs to be ready from the get-go. Croy said he thinks his team has the toughest schedule in all of Class B. They start off with a home game against Joliet on Friday, before a stretch that includes home games against 2012 playoff teams Malta, Baker and Forsyth and road games at Red Lodge and Shepherd.
“It’s still 11 guys versus 11 guys,” Oblender said of the tough schedule and move to District 3B. “Don’t matter who you’re playing, where it’s at … everyone’s there to win.
“They ain’t going to be blowouts. It’s going to be a tough-fought game, and we’ll see who comes out on top.”
There might not be many blowouts in Class B football this year. Jim Benn, the head coach at Ronan and one-time member of the Huntley Project staff, said the class is about as balanced as he can remember.
“This year, just talking to different coaches, there really isn’t (a preseason favorite),” Benn said. “Everybody’s kind of got a different opinion.”
Missoula Loyola is the defending champion, and they’ll be right back in the mix, despite graduating quarterback Bo Hughes and receiver Josh Janssen. In the championship game the Rams beat Malta, which is ushering in a new era after the retirement of longtime coach Scott King.
The Mustangs will likely battle Glasgow for the top seed out of District 2B, while Fairfield is the clear favorite again in the 1B.
In the South, Huntley Project will be challenged by Forsyth and Baker in the new-look 3B, while Columbus, Red Lodge, and Roundup figure to battle for supremacy in the 4B. Manhattan and Townsend appear to be the preseason favorites in the 5B.
“You don’t really have that one team this year,” said Benn, mentioning Bigfork and Florence as two more teams to watch out of western Montana. “So I think it’s going to be a real fun year in Class B football.”