BILLINGS - College football is knocking on the door, and as early as two weeks from Saturday, Rocky Mountain College will play its season opener at home.
Rocky head coach Chris Stutzriem vividly remembers one year ago this month, with his Bears and the entire Frontier Conference teetering on the hope of outrunning COVID-19 before crashing into a lost season.
"I try to forget everything from a year ago," Stutzriem told MTN Sports with a wry smile. "But everything was an adventure. And it's different adventures today moving forward but we're excited for where we're at and hopefully moving in the right direction."
"Last year it was a mental scramble," Bears' defensive lineman Dylan Beridon recalled. "Everybody didn't know if we were going to be playing or not. This time last year we were expecting to play a seven-game season and that's when the Oregon schools came out and we ended up only playing four games (in the spring)."
The Bears lost nailbiters by two points, seven points and three points, but closed a month-long run beating MSU-Northern by a field goal, 24-21.
"It's either a win or a loss," Stutzriem said in reflection. "Yeah, I saw as a head coach the things we're doing right and we're getting there but now we've got to get it done."
"I think we really tested our manhood as a team because we showed that we could face adversity," Beridon said. "We really have to go over that hill to try to get away from those close games."
Now, for the first time in two years, it gets real again as Rocky opens a 10-game schedule two weeks from Saturday (August 28) in a 6 p.m. kickoff at home against Southern Oregon. Among the position groups expected to lead the way is a stacked defensive line.
"Defensive line has been great. We expect them to own the line of scrimmage," Stutzriem said. "We (also) expect our offensive line to own the line of scrimmage. That's where games are won and lost."
Alex Bush is a DI transfer from Texas Christian University who'll be plugged into Rocky's defensive line.
"There's some pressure on the older guys to lead by example," Bush said. "We're looking to lead not only the conference in sacks, but the nation. We have the ability to do that, it's just the discipline and determination to get there."
"We've got to do lights out," Beridon said. "We really have to put a goose egg on the scoreboard every single week. We have to show everybody in the nation that we are the best D-line."
Rocky doesn't enter this fall with a target on the back, but rather as hunters after Frontier Conference coaches picked the Bears to finish seventh out of eight league teams.
"Yeah, that's fine," Stutzriem said. "I expected us to be there. That's where we finished in the spring, so..."
"It fuels the fire," Beridon said candidly. "It really just gives us more juice to use. It shows everybody doubts us and we've got to prove everybody wrong each and every week."