MISSOULA — For high school football fans across Montana, the past two weeks have brought back a sense of normalcy with the Class A, Class B, 8-Man and 6-Man seasons getting started.
Now, it's the Class AA schools turn to join the rest of the state and make their debuts.
For Missoula Big Sky, the Eagles jump right in with a crosstown game against rival Missoula Hellgate on Friday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
"I’ve said all along if we can get three, four, five games, I think we got to be happy that we’re having some form of a season," Big Sky coach Matt Johnson said. "It’s way more than the spring sports got."
The Class AA schools postponed their football seasons two weeks over the summer. Bozeman and Billings Senior will start everyone off on Thursday followed by the other schools on Friday.
For players and coaches, it's a long time coming, a relief, and something they won't take for granted.
"I tell these guys, play every play like it’s your last game, man, because you don’t know how it’s going to work out," Johnson said. "I’m glad we’re out here, I think it’s the right choice and to give these kids an opportunity, it goes a long way."
Big Sky went 1-9 last year with its lone win coming against eventual state champion Bozeman in Week 2. Numbers are low once again for the Eagles, but Johnson is excited about the crew he has coming back, saying he was impressed with what his underclassmen brought to the table last year and with their work over the summer to fill the shoes of the outgoing senior class.
Returners who stand out for the Eagles include do-all senior Hunter Meinzen, two-way senior lineman Henry Brown, receivers Tre Reed and Louis Sanders, senior receiver/linebacker Shawn Huseby and junior Cole Sandberg
Senior Colter Janacaro will be Big Sky's starting quarterback this year. A two-year varsity starter, Janacaro missed time last year due to a knee injury but is back fully healthy under center for the Eagles.
"It means a lot to me. I’m really happy that they gave us this chance," Brown said about getting a chance to have a season. "I personally love football. This is one of the few sports that I can go fully physical on. I'm excited. I'm really happy with what we have this year."
Brown and Meinzen both explained that small mistakes hurt the Eagles last season. Both said if mistakes are limited, they believe they can add to that win total in 2020.
"Small mistakes, being able to trust the person next to you to do their job so you’re not trying to do more than one thing at a time," Brown explained. "I think that if we just trust each other I feel like that’s a big part of it."
"As long as we go out there and play as hard as we can, fast as we can and have zero mistakes, win or lose, we're going to be happy," Meinzen added. "That was our problem last year, is we had a lot of mistakes and we're going to try and do better by that this year."
Low numbers for the Eagles have challenged them over the past few seasons, but Johnson said the players know opportunities to step up will be frequent, especially for younger players.
"It's not always the most ideal, but our kids are always willing to do it," Johnson said. "They know it and take pride in it knowing they have to rise to the challenge. We tell the whole team, whoever that is, step up. We constantly have that and it creates some pretty good battles that we're able to challenge each other in practice every day."