BILLINGS — Billings Central has been a staple in Class A football for years. The Rams have made the playoffs every season since 2003, but they've never experienced a lack of experience quite like they're about to.
"Pretty much lost just about every starter, nine or 10 on the offensive side as well as the defensive side," said Central head coach Jim Stanton. "So yeah, it's definitely starting over."
This will be Stanton's greatest test yet with the Rams. Central lost seven all-state players off last year's undefeated state title team, including their quarterback, top wide receiver, top two running backs, and 80 percent of the offensive line.
"There's a lot of work in progress," Stanton admitted. "We're trying to find the right fits and trying to find out who's hungry, who wants to play and who can bring that toughness to the game. You don't have to be overly big to play in those positions, as well. To be able to move and to be an athlete is something we look for."
"Who's the toughest guy? That's really what it comes down to," echoed returning lineman Bo Hakert. "Not the strongest, but the toughest -- who has the most grit and is ready to knock someone's teeth in?"
It shouldn't be hard to get fired up, since this is most of these players' only shot at the spotlight.
"Young guys ready to get their piece of the cake," said Hakert. "We've been behind good guys our whole life. I've been behind Marcus Wehr and Sam Gray since middle school, and it's almost like some of it's rubbed off on all of us here."
That's the key for a strong start, remembering the example guys like Wehr, Gray and Chrishon Dixon set.
"He definitely made me better," said Charlie Parkan, who will take over Dixon's role as the go-to wideout. "Watching him every day for three years, watching his feet, everything he's done has helped me as a better player, for sure."
There's also one more reason for this group to figure it out fast: the Rams' 16-year playoff streak.
"We're looked at as the underdog," Parkan said. "Nobody's expecting us to do much, but we know what we can do, we know what we're capable of."
"They've went through the process, and they've worked hard to get to this point," said Stanton. "A lot of the names don't shine til senior year."
Central opens the season Sept. 6 at home against Lewistown.