HELENA — The anticipation in the air Friday morning reminded of a certain December holiday as the Carroll College football players and coaches took to the practice field. What’s more exciting to Saints head coach Mike Van Diest: Waking up Christmas morning or seeing the sun rise on the first day of fall camp?
“It’s a toss up,” laughed Van Diest. “Christmas is pretty special, but to come out here for the first day, you’ve got the whole team together — the freshmen, the new transfers, players getting together from all different parts of the state and country. It’s just an awesome feeling to see them walking out here out of that locker room today.”
Just like waking up and seeing presents under the tree, the first day of Carroll fall practice is filled with potential. Anything is possible for these Saints moving forward this year as long as they work for it, and that’s an attitude that Van Diest and company are making sure everyone understands.
“Coach has this new keyword on our T-shirts, which is ‘GRIT,'” said linebacker Reece Quade. “Which is get down and get dirty and get to the point.”
“More articles I’ve read about coaches and leaders this summer, it seems to be that word pops up,” said Van Diest. “Just in terms of what do you have to do to come out here. There is a grind to sports, a grind to your job, and we have to get down in the dirt and the mud and we got to have some grit to us.”
That’s not just coachspeak. That needed change in intensity during practice and games this fall is felt by the players, too.
“In the past couple of years I think our focus has been off a little,” said running back Major Ali. “I think this year the focus is get the job done — whatever you need to do to get better, to win, to get the first down, to make the play, you got to do it. And that’s what we’re focusing on this year.’
“Coach really felt that there has not been enough toughness on our team the last three years,” added offensive lineman Willy Clements. “And he didn’t need to say it because we all knew. There has been games where there has not been the toughness on the field that we know is our standard. So really want to bring the toughness back, and it starts up front on both sides of the ball. Coach addressed that and challenged us, and we are up to the challenge.”
They better be if the Saints want to claw their way back to the mountaintop of the NAIA’s best, and doing that will definitely take some grit.
Fans will get a chance to see the Saints in action Aug. 11 at their scrimmage at Nelson Stadium. They then open the season on the road at Rocky Mountain College on Aug. 23.