EUREKA — Over the past four years, Eureka has built a football dynasty that rivals any in the state regardless of classification. Winners of three of the last four Class B state titles, the Lions' championship runs are almost clockwork at this point.
But as is typical in high school football, the Lions are once again faced with a rebuild after 11 seniors -- including future Division I football player Jake Kindel and fellow standouts Hank Dunn and Chet McCully -- are now gone to graduation.
Eureka sports just six seniors this year with about 40 players out for football. But regardless of who suits up, according to head coach Trevor Utter, thanks to that past success, the expectations are once again through the roof.
"Every kid that's out there working right now and worked all summer, their goal is to win state, that's it," Utter told MTN Sports. "They're going to do everything in their power to win state and so that is the expectation and that wasn't always the expectation.
"We lost a lot of very good seniors, but on the flip side we do have a tradition building up here so kids know what it took for those kids to get where they were and we've had, I think, the best work of ever in the summer."
The team located just nine miles south of the Canadian border in northwest Montana began its season on the road in 2020 at Bonners Ferry, Idaho. After getting permission from the state to leave Montana for the game, the Lions won their opener 14-0 to begin the 2020 campaign.
Led by senior Gunnar Smith (running back/defensive back) and juniors Danny Dunn (tight end/linebacker), Johnny Fehr (offensive/defensive lineman) and Gavin Pilkington (offensive/defensive lineman), the Lions have plenty of fresh faces to lead the team in search for a fourth title in five years. Utter added that this summer he probably had the most kids working out as he's ever had heading into a season.
Even when losing a talented senior class, Utter and the Lions are used to adapting at this point to create state championship teams, having lost 10 and 11 seniors in the two classes prior to last year.
"We always lose kids. Now the difference is, and I've always said this, is seniors matter," Utter explained. "Our senior class is very small and so we are going to be asking the juniors to step up more. I'm going to be starting three or four sophomores. They're darn good athletes and they're ready to go, but when you have 11 seniors, typically those 11 are kind of hogging the playing time, right? And I don't have that this year.
"I'm going to be starting quite a few young kids, but we've been there before. We've started freshmen in the state championship game before so it's not that it can't be done, it's just that high school football is always a challenge to put the pieces together and get the best people on the field."
Utter, who is entering his ninth season as the head coach of the Lions, also said his players appreciate the opportunity to continue their fall sports.
"You could see the appreciation in the kids. They're happy to be there," Utter said. "They're working extremely hard, but they're just happy that they get to do that because many of them lost so much in the spring already and they get it, this is day-to-day. They get to do this and are grateful for it and as coaches we're the same way."
Going forward, as Utter and his team shoot for another title, they're doing their part to ensure the season continues and follow any guidelines necessary that allow them to chase their ultimate goal.
"We talk to (the players) all of the time (and say), 'If this increases your chance of having a season by two percent, then do it. Because every two percent can add up,'" he said. "Maybe it's one more game or two more games or whatever that you get, and they get that."