HELENA – Tony Arntson has one more high school football game to coach.
The former Helena High coach, who stepped down this offseason after 24 years at the helm to take a position on the Carroll College staff, was tabbed to lead the Montana all-stars into the 25th annual Knights of Columbus Badlands Bowl. Arntson, who is coaching in his fifth Badlands Bowl, and his coaching staff released the Montana roster earlier this month.
“Obviously, you want to get your best 35 guys in the state of Montana,” Arntson said of how the roster came together. “I always look at trying to spread it out. You get an opportunity to see the best players in Class A, B and C along with the AA kids and give those smaller-school kids an opportunity to play in the AAs. We definitely look into that, we try to spread it around as much as we can and get the best kids that we can.”
Arntson will coach three of his former Bengals – quarterback Kaleb Winterburn, defensive lineman Caeden Suero and linebacker Conner Nash – in the June all-star game, but he’ll also enjoy leading many players he coached against on the Class AA gridiron. Guys like Conor Quick, Trevor Welnel, Justin Jenks and Seth Schneider of Helena Capital will line up alongside Billings Senior’s Gabe Sulser, Nolan Askelson and Blake Allred, who helped guide the Broncs to back-to-back state championships.
Senior defeated Helena High, 21-12, for the 2017 title.
“Definitely a lot better to coach them than line up against them,” Arntson said with a laugh. “A few years ago, we had (former Helena Capital star) Matt Miller, I had the opportunity to coach him. He was another one, it was so much fun to have him on your team instead of watching him on the other sideline. These guys this year are special, all the kids on the roster, but those Billings Senior kids have had a heck of a run. They’re great athletes, but more than that, Coach (Chris) Murdock does a great job with those kids. They’re good people, they’re going to be great teammates. And that’s another thing that really goes into the selection committee. We contact the coaches, talk to the coaches, make sure that they’re going to be great teammates, because that’s very important. You have six days to put everything together and get ready to play and come together as a team. And football’s obviously a great team game, so we want to make sure we get great kids around each other.”
One unit where the Montana all-stars will boast plenty of talent is the linebacking corps. In addition to Nash, Allred, Askelson and Schneider, Arntson has Tyler Buckingham of Billings West, Jackson Pepe of Kalispell Glacier and Colton Grange of 8-Man state champion Drummond-Philipsburg.
By contrast, the Montana roster includes just four defensive backs, but Arntson cautioned that the position listed on the roster will always be flexible for all-star games. The 2017 roster was loaded in the defensive secondary with five Division I athletes (Tadan Gilman, Troy Andersen, Tanner Wilson, Keaton Anderson and Michael McGinnis). That secondary provided two of Montana’s three pick-6s last year in the most lopsided Badlands Bowl in series history, a 65-0 romp at Connors Stadium in Miles City.
The game returns to Dickinson, N.D. this year with kickoff slated for 6 p.m. (MST) June 16 at the Biesiot Activities Center.
“This is definitely a different situation now that I am coaching at Carroll,” said Arntson, who will now be coaching the offensive line at Carroll College. “We’re going to be playing against a lot of the kids for the next four years. … It’s just going to be an opportunity to go have fun and coach in my last high school football game.”