BILLINGS — The Rocky Mountain College football team ended the first practice of fall camp by chanting, '1, 2, 3, family!' It's a rallying cry the brand-new Battlin' Bears will need all season.
"We're young across the board," said defensive lineman Denton Wetherell. "We lost a lot of good players last year and we just have to fill them in. 'The next man up' is our mentality right now, and we just have to figure it out."
The defending Frontier Conference champs are replacing key members at almost every position. It starts at quarterback, where reigning offensive player of the year Jacob Bakken is gone, and the battle is on for Drew Korf or Nate Dick to replace him.
"They'll go 1s and 2s every day, and they'll rotate between sets and stuff like that -- they're going to get a lot of reps," said head coach Chris Stutzriem, who is also in his first year. "We've always said after the first scrimmage on Aug. 18, we'll name a starter. I don't know if we'll tell anybody who that is."
That's only seven practices away -- with just six more afterward before Rocky's opener thanks to new Frontier Conference rules that don't allow two-a-days, which means every one is important.
"What coach Stutz says is when we're here, we have to work," said Dick. "The coaches are doing a really good job taking care of our body, but when it's time to practice, we have to go 100 miles an hour all the time."
Like any coach will tell you, the key groups to watch are in the trenches. The offensive line may be the youngest bunch on the team, without a single junior or senior.
"It's tough, but we know we've got a lot of time with them," Stutzriem said. "They work extremely hard. They're a talented group. They just need reps and the maturity a little bit, so I'm excited to see their growth throughout these next practices."
On the flip side, the defensive line lost All-American Ryder Rice, who transferred to the Montana Grizzlies for his final season. No one person can replace him, so they'll have to do it in the aggregate.
"I think on D-line, you've got to have eight-to-nine guys that can play every game," said Stutzriem.
"We definitely want to have eight guys at least, two-deep across the board to help us be as fresh as possible," echoed Wetherell. "Those offensive linemen are constantly going -- they don't get a break. So if we can get in there and get fresh new legs, have eight guys be able to do that, four guys that come in and play throughout the whole season, that will be a big benefit for us."
Time will tell, though that time is ticking fast. Rocky opens its season Aug. 29 at Dickinson State.