HAMILTON — The high school football season is rapidly approaching in Montana, and the Hamilton Broncs are perennially one of the top Class A football teams in western Montana. And in 2021, Bryce Carver and crew are preparing for another deep playoff push as their first game gets closer and closer.
Last year ended in heartbreak as Hamilton lost a close contest to Laurel in the semifinals of the Class A playoffs. It was Hamilton's fourth straight trip to the semifinal round -- two of which went all the way to the state championship game -- but with a younger group now, Hamilton is tasked with reloading once again.
The Broncs are led by senior quarterback and safety Tyson Rostad, who was one of the players in the program who saw big minutes at a young age when he started as a sophomore.
"Being younger, looking up at some of those kids and even looking up at my brother (Carson), I know they left something for someone else to be able to become a leader," Rostad said. "My whole goal this year is to know that I only got one more shot at going to get a state title and more importantly I want to be able to leave something so those juniors and sophomores can look up to someone and that they can fill that role."
Rostad made his commitment to the Montana Grizzlies over the summer as well, and he'll join his older brother at UM next fall. Carson Rostad is currently a linebacker with the Grizzlies.
"I know a lot of people dream of playing college football let alone dreaming of playing with their brother," Tyson said. "Like I told Carson, 'Well I hope you’re not tired of me because I’m going to come join you up there.' I like it, Carson is a really good leader, and he’s a good brother, and me and him are close so it’s going to be fun.
"It's always been a childhood dream of mine, being younger and looking at them and just thinking, wow, I want to play for the Grizzlies and now that it happened I'm super excited."
Liam O'Connell is another returning starter for Hamilton, but Carver said most positions on the team are up for grabs as Hamilton enters the season with just eight seniors on the team.
"I think it’s the coaching staff and the leadership and the kids above us just teach us how to lead and then we all lead," said O'Connell, a junior who starts at wide receiver and linebacker. "We should be coming back pretty strong. We got a lot of hard workers this year, I think we should be pretty good."
But even with some unknowns, Hamilton's expectations are always high, something that started four years ago when Carver took over the program as head coach.
"When I first took over and stuff we always wanted to talk about having a positive culture here on the field and off the field and in the classroom," the fifth-year head coach said. "I think once we kind of made that our motto about we want a culture here, not just one year, two years, we just want to build this thing for our culture and it all started with those guys about 4 or 5 years ago and they bought in and really taught these younger kids what it’s about and fortunately we’ve been able to have that trickle down effect as years go on where the guys that are now older can teach the younger guys too about what it means to play for us and to have that opportunity to be out here. Been very fortunate, we've had good leaders and having kids buy into our program and what we want to do."
Hamilton will open its 2021 season against fellow Bitteroot Valley rival Corvallis on Friday, Aug. 27.