COLUMBIA FALLS — The Columbia Falls Wildcats were not a revered program in Class A football until 2016.
But that changed when the Wildcats went to consecutive state title games in 2016 and 2017.
In 2017, they took down Hamilton to claim their first state title. In 2018 they followed their championship campaign with a solid season, finishing 8-2 and reaching the semifinal game. However, the Wildcats took a step back in 2019, finishing the season at 2-7, and failed to make the playoffs.
The team did suffer from the loss of all-state players due to injury or illnesses, but head coach Jaxon Schweikert said they also lacked something those successful Wildcat teams of the past had.
“The one thing our kids have always done is compete," said Schweikert. "They didn’t care if they were a 170-pound guard going against a 270-pound defensive tackle. They would give you a fight all day long. We didn’t feel like we competed to our standard last year, that was a big drop off. We looked more like a JV team.”
But after a disappointing season in 2019, Schweikert said the team has turned it around in a short amount of time.
“We are just buzzword here, buzzword there and we are going," said Schweikert. "So we are practicing much faster, everybody looks much more comfortable. We are pretty impressed of how dramatically better we look at this point from last year.”
“I think we’re feeling a lot better, we are actually playing as one," said senior wide receiver Lucas Thacker. "Last year no one really wanted it. This year we’re playing more as a brotherhood, we’re ready to compete and play fast.”
In a season that’s seen lots of ups and downs already with COVID-19, it’s been a little easier for the Wildcats to manage than most teams as Schweikert has 16 assistant coaches.
“Most of our practices are small groups and we can social distance, and we have a beautiful facility here for a practice area. We have a lot of space, we have really good grass and we can really spread out for most of our drills for most of the day," Schweikert said.
Columbia Falls is set to kick off its season on Friday night at home against the Polson Pirates. In last year's season opener, Polson won 20-6.