MISSOULA — For the past three football seasons, the Missoula Hellgate Knights have been led by quarterback and defensive back Rollie Worster.
Worster is now at Utah State playing for the men's basketball program as the Knights build a new team without him.
"He’s a once-in-a-generation type player, one of the finest football players or athletes to ever put on the Hellgate uniform," said Hellgate head coach Mick Morris. "So you’re not going to replace that, but we hope there’s a few other guys that can kind of step in and minimize what you lose."
As the Knights look to move on from Worster, they'll look to a number of other guys to lead on offense and defense.
Morris said it's hard to replace players like Worster, but he likes what he's seen so far.
"The biggest thing is we are really athletic, and I think we have a lot more team speed than we’ve had in the past," said Morris. "Numbers are always going to be a struggle, so that’s kind of been disappointing, but I think the biggest thing for our kids is they are coachable. We have good kids, they are busting their butts and we haven’t had to bring up effort once in two weeks, and that’s pretty rare."
One of those players who made an impact last year is junior wide receiver Ian Finch, who said Worster and his now-graduated classmates left Hellgate in good hands.
"They showed how hard you really have to work at Hellgate," said Finch. "If you look back there there’s only 35 guys. There are a lot more players at other schools. They showed me you need to work through a lot of things. Vocal, you've got to be vocal to your teammates and younger teammates."
While Finch is settling into his new leadership role, the Knights are also adjusting to the rarities that come with a pandemic. Morris said the extra practice with no non-conference games has been nice to have but almost too much.
"I think for us it’s the four weeks of practice leading up to a game, which is nice, but we’re starting to get sick of each other," said Morris. "Kids are getting sick of each other, they’re getting sick of hearing our voices all the time. So, that’s been a challenge for us. I think normally you’ve got 12 days and then your strapping it up and playing. This year we have 20 practices before we get to go."
And it doesn't stop getting any stranger for the Knights as they start their season with a crosstown rivalry game against the Big Sky Eagles on Sept. 11.
"We know what we get with Big Sky," said Morris. "They are a tough, hard-nosed team, kids play hard, it'll be a physical game. First game of the year, it's going to be pretty sloppy, then you mix in the lack of summer, then you mix in crosstown and the emotions. It's probably going to be a pretty sloppy game."