BELGRADE -- For the Belgrade football team, one thing is catching everyone’s attention this season: their move up from Class A to Class AA. But Panthers head coach Eric Kinnaman isn't paying much attention to the outside noise.
“Everybody is asking, '(Class AA) what’s the difference?' If you really look at it, really the biggest difference and the main difference is that we’ve never played any of these teams," said Kinnaman. "We’ve never played Butte or Bozeman or any of the Helena or Great Falls schools, so everything is new to us. Being able to game plan is going to take a little bit longer, because we’re not game-planning against somebody that we’ve played the last 20 years.”
Belgrade now moves up to play in the highest level of prep football in the state, but the new challenge doesn't come with any added nerves.
“I think it’s just that we have bigger competition, that’s all I see it as is, there is just a different team we are playing," said senior wide receiver and cornerback Brody Blossom." (It's the) same football, all 11 of us are on the field.”
"I think the competition will be good for us. It’s good to play the best,” added senior quarterback Dyson Cheney.
While the league has changed, so has Belgrade’s roster, losing big playmakers from last year’s team like Easton Page and Eli Major. So the plan of attack for Kinnamin is changing from a big-play offense to a patient attack.
“We’re not able to recruit our athletes, so we are trying to be able to tailor our offense around the players that we have," said Kinnaman. "We want to be able to manage the clock a little bit more than what we have in the past. I think that’s going to be a big key for us in a lot of our games, is being able to manage the clock.”
Now Belgrade is ready to make a splash in its first season of AA football.
“For me, I want to win every game, I’m wanting a state championship. It’s my senior year, so that’s how I’m going into it. I want to win everything," said Blossom. "Hopefully that’s how the rest of the team looks at it because that’s what we are here for.”
Belgrade opens up its season on the road against Butte on Friday, Aug. 30.