MISSOULA — Camden Sirmon sat in the Missoula Sentinel weight room last Friday prior to kickoff against Kalispell Flathead.
The Spartans were moments away from beginning the 2020 Class AA football season against the Braves, an outcome that for months seemed to hang in the air with the threat of cancellations or postponements.
For the senior and new Spartan quarterback, time stood still.
"It felt like it wasn't even real," he said. "Practice is one thing, but suiting up for a game and feeling that Friday night lights feeling again was just unbelievable. I'm in a very fortunate situation to be playing football right now."
After much anticipation, Sentinel debuted with a dominant 59-19 win over Flathead. The Spartans carry high expectations as a state favorite in Class AA this season thanks to a bevy of returning stars from last year's semifinal team.
But a lot of buzz surrounding Sentinel has also centered around two new faces donning purple and gold this season in senior transfers Jace Klucewich and Sirmon.
Sirmon originally hails from Wenatchee, Washington, but his family moved to Missoula over the summer. So finally getting on the field at all was a huge weight lifted for a player already navigating a new home in his final high school season.
The same goes for Klucewich, who transferred in from Class A Frenchtown. One of the state's top recruits and already a future Montana Grizzly, Klucewich was equally as worried about whether a season would even take place.
"It was a little scary coming in and transferring then realizing that there might not be a season," Klucewich said. "Had to make the best of it and luckily we're having a season."
The duo has appeared to seamlessly transition in with Sentinel's core group of returners. Sirmon rotates in at quarterback with last year's starter, Dayton Bay, while Klucewich lines up as a starter at wide receiver and defensive back.
In terms of the differences from Class A to AA, Klucewich said the sheer depth of the team and the number of players waiting in the wings to step in and compete was the biggest change. He noted how he knew a lot of Sentinel's players from previous camps but learning the team systems and getting acclimated still took some getting used to.
"It was a pretty big adjustment," Klucewich said. "There was a lot more going on, lot more to do. Feels (like) a little more higher-profile football, which I really liked. I think it’s going to benefit me and it benefits everyone on the team."
Klucewich caught two passes for 61 yards and one touchdown in his debut and also served as the team's punt and kick returner. Sirmon, meanwhile, finished 5-of-8 passing for 88 yards and two touchdowns, one of which was a 34-yard connection with Klucewich in the second quarter. Sirmon also racked up 146 yards on six carries and two more touchdowns on the ground in his Sentinel debut, one of which was a 75-yard keeper.
So if there were any growing pains, the two didn't show it.
"It was good. We started out early, we had a lot of team meetings last year even and we did a lot of online group team-building exercises and everything, and that really helped me be part of the team and get along with everyone and get to know everyone," Klucewich said. "It did feel like a fresh start, but it kind of revived my love for football. I feel like it kind of boosted that back up."
"It’s been pretty smooth," Sirmon added. "Obviously there’s a lot of decisions that had to be made prior to coming here and I’m glad they did because this team has just been awesome. They’ve accepted me from Day 1 and I’m here to help the team. I’m not here for anything else than to play football (my) senior year in the fall, that was a big deal, and I’m really glad I did. I love my new teammates."
Sirmon's older brother, Cy Sirmon, is a former offensive lineman for the Griz, so he was fairly familiar with Missoula. Still, making the move from a town he grew up in his whole life to an entirely different state had its adjustments, but that's where his teammates came in.
"Geno (Leonard) really reached out first and kind of broke the ice that way," Sirmon said. "All of the other guys quickly hopped on board and now I have a lot of new lifelong friends. That definitely made the transition easy."
So far the duo's impact has been quick and significant. Sentinel coach Dane Oliver expressed his admiration for the way his players responded to Sirmon and Klucewich joining the team and also how the two have carried themselves since arriving and helped to continue to build a team culture.
"They just bring a great athleticism No. 1, and they’re two nice, high-character kids," Oliver said. "These aren’t kids who come in and try to create issues. It’s what’s best for the team. And that’s always been our approach here and that’s not just Cam and Jace, it’s everybody."
"I’m just honored to be in the position I am," Sirmon added. "I came in here, kind of was quiet for a while, didn’t want to go too far and try to be the big guy coming in. I just try to stay pretty humble and let the team accept me. I’m really glad I did it that way and, again, I’m just honored to be a part of this team and be able to help lead this team to win games."