HELENA — Tony Arntson knew this spring was going to be physically and mentally exhausting.
The longtime Helena High football coach announced in early February he would be leaving the Bengals to take an assistant football position at Carroll College, but Arntson would see out his duties as the head track and field coach of the Helena High boys.
The double duty has presented its challenges, but nothing that could take away Arntson’s excitement.
“The days were a little long, but it’s what I love to do. I got the best of both worlds (this spring),” said Arntson. “(Carroll has been) a big learning process for me, obviously. First of all, just learning the kids’ names and the kids that I’m around, but they’ve been great. They’ve treated me very well and very open to helping me out and bringing me along in the system. Coach (Nick) Howlett has gone out of his way to do what he has to do for me offensively. The transition has been good. Coach (Manny) Garza and the guys at Helena High have been helping me out on (the track and field) end, so we’re making it all work.”
“I was like a little kindergartner on the first day of school (during spring drills), but the kids were awesome about it,” Arntson continued. “There are some veteran kids that have been around, they were here last fall and they’ve helped me a ton. They were patient with me.”
Studying the playbook, offensive schemes and terminology has been and continues to be Arntson’s homework. The travel between Carroll College and Vigilante Stadium, where Helena High practices and hosts its home meets, is a daily routine at this point. Carroll concluded its spring drills on April 21, but that was only the beginning of Arntson’s preparations.
“You have the foundation of Coach (Mike) Van Diest and Coach Howlett, they know how to make things work. In a much more complex way, it’s kind of like doing an all-star game. When doing the (Knights of Columbus) MonDak game or doing the Shrine Game, that’s the first thing we talk to players about is, we all kind of do the same stuff. You watch football, we study football, we’ve visited colleges all over the place forever,” Arntson said of learning a new system. “It’s just getting through the terminology of it, and there’s a lot of terminology. It’s a very complex offense with a lot of terminology in it, so it’s going to take some study time. The success that they’ve had in this program throughout the years, they know what they’re doing and they get it. Now the young guys and I get to learn along with the older guys and by next fall we’ll be ready to go.”
Arntson’s time with the Helena High track program is down to its final two weeks, with the Bengals competing in the Western AA divisional in Missoula this weekend and the State AA meet in Great Falls beginning on May 25.
It then becomes “all Carroll, all the time” for Arntson, who says one of the best perks is being around his sons, receiver Troy and running back Ryan, on a daily basis.
“Especially with Troy. Ryan’s only a year displaced, so it hasn’t been that long, but having both of them around is awesome,” Arntson said. “I feel so fortunate, not many coaches get this opportunity. It’s one thing to coach your kids in high school and get one shot at it, or coach them as they’re growing up, but to be able to go on and have another shot with them in college is pretty special. Watching the maturity, especially of Troy, he’s been here for four years now and seeing him grow as a person, young man and leader of this program has been awesome seeing it from the inside now. Ryan is a young buck just learning, but watching his excitement and how much he loves this program, campus and school, we’re very appreciative that both of them are here.”