Football in Montana is back. Belgrade High School hit the field early Friday morning, and the Panthers couldn’t be happier to be here.
“It feels great to be back," said Belgrade head coach Eric Kinnaman. "We’ve been waiting all summer for this. I know every school in the state has been looking forward to this day. After spring break we had three months off of no school, home school, distance learning, barely got in the weight room, got lucky to get into the weight room. Then out on the field it just feels great to have organized practice and back out on the field, get the kids back together.”
Belgrade is in its second year playing Class AA football. With less than 60 kids on the team, that’s a significantly smaller number than those coming out to play for schools like Bozeman and Billings West. Those schools get at least double the turnout.
“I think we have a good core," Kinnaman said. "What I’m worried about is our low numbers. We have low numbers again.”
However, Belgrade won’t use that as an excuse.
“We’re looking to have a winning season this year," Kinnaman said. "We took that step last year and competed with some of the bigger AA schools. I think this year, knowing the speed of the game, the kids knowing who they’re going to be playing, what to expect -- I think that gives us a little more of a mental advantage for our team knowing what we’re getting ourselves into.”
A player to watch is senior linebacker and running back Alex Cassas.
“I think he’s going to be a good player for us, both offensively and defensively," said Kinnaman. "We just got to find that well-balanced to be able to keep him fresh on both sides of the ball."
Cassas was worried about the season happening but is now happy he gets to be on the field.
“I’m really excited," he said. "I was really nervous in the beginning. I’m really excited, though."
In the end it’s just nice to see the kids on the field, breaking a sweat and enjoying football.
“I want these kids to play football just for the simple fact you see them out here in the morning, we were conditioning and they loved it. When we get into the real guts of football, they’ll just be that more excited," Kinnaman said.