HELENA — Troy Purcell came back to Helena to lead the Carroll College football program after working as an assistant coach at the University of Idaho under Paul Petrino, the best man at Purcell's wedding.
"That's where I learned a little bit more about the recruiting process and then a lot more about the game," said Purcell.
With the Vandals, Purcell had an opportunity to learn in multiple roles. He started at Idaho coaching the inside linebackers, then tight ends, before becoming the Vandals' special teams coordinator.
Now in his fifth season as the Saints' head coach, Purcell has the team ranked No. 10 in the latest NAIA Top 25 poll
“The main thing is just to make sure we’re ranked high, you know, because it’s so hard to get into the playoffs," Purcell said. "When you start out of the rankings, it’s so hard to get into the rankings and then it’s really hard to get high in the rankings."
The Saints (2-0) were among the biggest movers in the nationwide poll, moving up five spots from their preseason No. 15 ranking. They entered the top 10 after their 26-23 victory over then-No. 14 St. Thomas (Fla.) last week.
“I haven’t been in very many games when you get a punt blocked and it ends up in a touchdown where you win that game. It just shows the toughness and the resilience our guys have,” said Purcell.
This is the first time the Saints have appeared in the top 10 since they were ranked fourth in 2015, and it's the highest national ranking in Purcell's term.
Redshirt sophomore Chris Akulschin has already racked up 230 yards and 15 receptions with the game-winning touchdown last week against St. Thomas.
“He strives to be the best he can possibly be, that’s what's special about that kid," Purcell said. "I don’t have to tell him anything, 'Just keep doing what you’re doing and continue getting better.' But his speed and his toughness and his ability, from his first game last year to his first game this year, is just unbelievable."
Tug Smith, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound defensive back, also had a huge game last weekend at Nelson Stadium, managing 11 total tackles, including one for loss, and the game’s first interception.
“We played hard, but effort, attitude and toughness showed up on field, being tenacious. I think we missed 17 tackles, which is too many, but tenacious defense,” said Purcell.
The Saints have managed two tough wins over nationally ranked teams through their first two games, including a 21-19 win over No. 16 Montana Tech in Week 1.
Carroll hits the road this week to face Rocky Mountain College in their Frontier Conference opener in Billings. On their way, Purcell and the Saints will make a brief stop to practice in Bozeman, where Purcell previously coached NFL players Will Dissly and Brock Coyle as the head coach at Bozeman High School.
"(This ranking) really helps the process as you get towards the end of the season," Purcell said. "That was our motto, we needed to start fast, and playing two ranked teams like that right out of the gate really put us in a situation to start fast and have a good ranking. It's a nice feather in the cap."
Carroll and Rocky are scheduled to kick off at 1 p.m. Saturday at Herb Klindt Field.