WORDEN -- There’s a familiar face back in charge of the Huntley Project football team. Jay Santy has returned as head coach after an eight-year hiatus.
As head coach in his last stint at Huntley Project, Santy led the Red Devils to 24 consecutive wins and back-to-back Class B state titles in 2008 and 2009. Huntley Project was considered one of the most dominant teams in the state at the time. Santy was also an assistant under current Billings Central head coach Jim Stanton when the Red Devils won a state title in 1998.
“I’ve really enjoyed it. The energy level is good with the kids. It’s good with the coaches. I feel energized again," Santy said. "I fully planned on totally getting out of it, then this happened. Life throws twists at you and curve balls and you just go with it.”
“I know when they ran, when they were running through that, I did give him a quick text, as well as their superintendent, and said, ‘You don’t have to look very far. There’s a pretty good guy just sitting in your backyard,’” Stanton said of Santy. “He’s a great coach, the kids will love him. I know he’s been out of it for a while, but he’s one of the best coaches I’ve been around in terms of coaching with him for probably 13, 14 years. He’s very passionate. … He’s a great man and they’re fortunate to have him on board."
Just weeks before the season began, previous coach Guy Croy stepped down, leaving current players with plenty of questions. But Santy has seen resiliency in the young group.
“I think it’s going good. I know it’s hard on them," Santy said. "They’re expecting one thing, but, like I said, life throws curve balls at you. Kids are kids. They bounce back, they’re ready to play football. They just want to play football.”
During Santy’s eight-year absence from the sidelines, the offensive side of the ball saw tremendous change. More than ever, teams are spreading defenses out and moving the ball through the air. But that won’t change Santy’s approach.
“Nope, nope, nope, nope. We’re not going to fool anybody. We’re running the Wing-T offense and defensively we’re doing the same thing we did seven or eight years ago," he said. "Hopefully they’ve got to get out their old playbooks and learn how to defend the Wing-T. I don’t think there’s too many teams that do that anymore. We were real successful with it. That’s what we know as coaches.”
Defensively, Santy isn’t worried about his scheme holding up against the high-powered spread offenses that have become more prevalent in recent years.
“Schemes are schemes. It comes down to fundamentals, skills, teaching kids how to play the game and do things right," Santy said. "That’s what we’re focusing on right now. We’ll adjust to the spread or the wishbone or whatever they throw at us. As long as you’re fundamentally sound, you can adjust to anything.”
Bringing along assistant coaches from his staff from the late 2000s was an easy choice for Santy. Huntley Project ravaged opponents in its two state titles under Santy, often hanging its hat on the defensive side of the ball. With largely the same coaching staff, Santy expects defense to again be a strong point for the Red Devils.
“It’s going to make the transition a lot easier. We know each other, they know what I expect, and I know what they do well. It’s great having a couple guys on that have coached together before. We know what we want to accomplish in practice and try to get it done," he said. "I really truly believe defense keeps you in a football game. Offense you’ve got to score points. Our ‘09 team gave up I think 32 points in 12 games. Just a phenomenal group. Just determined, defensive-minded guys. I think we’ve got a lot of the same kind of kids here. They have that same type of determination from what I can tell.”
Santy still has friends coaching in the area. However, with the season beginning, he’ll likely save the niceties for late November.
“John Fitzgerald in Red Lodge, he’s still around. He’ll probably be around a lot longer than I am. He’s a great guy. I haven’t talked to John, we’re rivals now. I ain’t going to talk to him in a while,” Santy joked. “No, he’s busy and I’m busy.”
Santy doesn’t anticipate leaving the sidelines again anytime soon, hoping to again build a perennial power at Huntley Project.
“I’m not thinking that far ahead. I’m hoping to be here a while and get this program to where we’re getting 40, 45, 50 players like we used to," said Santy. "I want the kids to play hard, win football games and have fun along the way. Enjoy the journey. Just want them to enjoy each other and the whole process.”