Huntley Project seniors Noah Bouchard and Mitchell Burns are two of the top athletes in Class B -- Bouchard in the jumps and Burns in the sprints. Their journeys to successful senior seasons, though, couldn't have been more different.
Bouchard has been among the top athletes in Class B since bursting onto the scene as a sophomore, finishing runner-up to teammate Bradley Graves in the hurdles, placing fifth in the long jump and winning the high jump that year.
"I’ve kind of just looked at it and tried to compare my marks to what college marks would be. I try to push for those marks so next year I’m right in the middle and I’m not trying to play catch-up," said Bouchard.
This year, Bouchard leads Class B in the 110-meter hurdles (14.50 seconds), the triple jump (42 feet, 11 inches), long jump (22-05 ½) and high jump (6-10), while also running on Project’s 400-meter relay team, which is currently No. 3 in Class B. Bouchard is not only taking aim at the State B high jump record of 6-09, he’s also hoping to become the fourth Montanan to hit 7-feet at an in-state meet.
“Once I cleared that (6 feet, 10 inches), I immediately thought I want 7-foot. Not a lot of people – that’s a top tier to be in. I’d want to clear that, then ultimately the main goal is to clear 7-02, the all-class record," Bouchard said.
Burns, too, had a big sophomore year, placing fourth in the 400-meter dash and running on both first-place Project relay teams. But even if there had been a 2020 season, Burns wouldn't have been able to compete after tearing his left ACL during basketball season at the end of January trying to throw down a dunk in warmups.
"My coaches are feeling the long-term effects of that. My complaining is starting to get a little higher tier because I’ve been doing nothing but working out for the past year, year and a half. It’s constant, no stopping, even on the weekends, so it’s just hard," Burns said.
Burns, a Colorado State track commit, was able to recover in time to hit the gridiron this fall, but he suffered a torn ACL in his other knee during a scrimmage in the preseason that sidelined him through both the football and basketball seasons. Burns was cleared a month and a half early and is rounding back into form, even as he continues to strengthen his legs back up.
"As soon as my right one happened I knew I’d just have to start over again," he said. "It was kind of hard. I’d just built back all that strength in my left one. Since I tore that other one, it was a whole bunch of sitting, so I didn’t use my left one either. I kind of lost them both again if that makes sense. I had to build them both back up.”
Burns and Bouchard have had different paths through their athletic careers, but they’re hoping individual success at this weekend’s State B meet in Laurel will translate to another team title. Bouchard will compete in all three jumps, the 110s, the 400-meter relay and javelin. Burns will run on both Project relay teams and in the 400-meter dash.
“I’ve just thought about state the whole year, so I just want to show these other people that I’m still a factor. We’ve got good kids like Wyatt (Barney), Jay (Jetmore), Colby (Martinez) and all those guys coming up finally, so it’s pretty cool," Burns said. "I’ve hit my marks I wanted to hit this season but I just haven’t had time to build these things up yet.”
“It starts in practice. You see someone slacking, they expect you to bring them up, say, ‘Hey, work a little harder.’ Then you’re expecting the same energy back, where if I’m not working as hard I expect one of my teammates to look at me and say, ‘Hey, work a little harder. We’re pushing for another team title,'" Bouchard said.
The State B meet gets under way Friday at 9 a.m. with the boys javelin, where Bouchard will begin his quest for six gold medals. Project will be searching for its second consecutive team title after setting the State B record with 122 points en route to its 2019 title.