HELENA — After a rough 0-7 inaugural varsity season last year, the East Helena Vigilantes football program is working at what head coach Tyler Murray is calling a “complete build.”
For Murray, this isn’t his first go-around with an under-performing program. Before taking the head coaching position at East Helena, he spent four years with the Mission Bulldogs, a program that hadn’t seen a playoff appearance in 18 years. Under his leadership the Bulldogs made back-to-back appearances in 2019 and 2020. But he admits there are some differences between the two.
“That was more of just a rebuild. This is a complete build from the ground up. So last year, we had kids that played hard. They had great effort, gratitude the whole year. And we're excited about that. The biggest jump this year was just work smarter and tougher. Our kids got in the weight room. They worked hard. We went to a lot of stuff and did a lot of stuff this summer. And they're committed to being better this year,” he said.
Luckily for Murray, he doesn’t just keep an eye on his players in season. He also serves as the school’s PE and weightlifting teacher.
“Just walking the halls, trying to get as many kids to come out. We got 56 on the roster. And we got a few kids that were walking the halls and like, hey, come out for football. We tried to take care of the kids really well and have fun outside of practice. And it's a big family environment. And that's what our culture is, like, it's player driven. And it's fun. It should be a family type. But yeah, I teach weightlifting. And so we get them in the weight room all year. So it's pretty fun,” the head coach said.
With East Helena High School’s opening in 2020, the team had no seniors last year. Finally having seniors this year, the team has seen growth in the leadership department.
“You can see and progress from sophomores and juniors, juniors and seniors, athletically, physically, mentally, emotionally, all those things have been impressive. So that's the biggest, biggest increase we've seen,” Murray added.
But according to the team’s seniors, being a new school makes them extra tough.
“We play tough all the time. I mean, it's hard battling through, you know, being a new school and everything. And I think we play mentally, pretty tough,” Keaben Bushnell, a senior wide receiver and safety said.
And they’re ready to take their toughness into their first game of the season.
“Libby. They are the first varsity game and we want them back. They started off our season last year bad and we want to get them back,” Adam Shirley, a senior right guard and defensive end said.
With last year’s record in the rear view mirror, Shirley has one message for the rest of Class A.
“We’re coming for you," he said.