GREAT FALLS — Levi Wesche still remembers making the 40-minute drive to Great Falls every July while growing up near Dutton.
“I grew up coming to this game every summer,” said the third-year Bozeman head coach. “It was something my dad always made sure we went to.”
And now it’s come full circle for the small-town kid. After three stints as an assistant in the Montana East-West Shrine game, Wesche is now a first-time head coach of the East team in the summer all-star classic. With the three-year rotation returning to Great Falls this year, the setting couldn’t be more perfect.
“I went to school in Dutton, played football at Choteau and my grandma and grandpa had a farm up in Big Sandy, so northcentral Montana is kind of where I’m from,” Wesche said. “It’s really fun to be back here, so to be able to be the head coach and have the game in Great Falls is pretty special.”
Though the setting is familiar for Wesche, his role as head coach is different than in previous games as a coordinator or position coach.
“Just trying to get the roster put together has been different,” he said. “Usually as an assistant you just show up and have the guys you got and be done with it. As a head coach you have to think about how you want to fill out your roster, how many tight ends you want to carry, how many defensive linemen you want to carry. It was definitely a lot more intense than when I was a position coach but a very worthwhile endeavor.”
But the former MSU-Northern football player had loads of talent to pick from on the East side of the state.
“You’re not building from the bottom up,” he said. “You already got a really good base of fundamentals, these kids are explosive, they want to be here and a lot of these kids eat, sleep, breathe football. They’re kind of like us as coaches in a way. Working with that kind of talent is great.”
As an added bonus, Wesche gets to coach a pair of Bozeman High seniors one final time before both head off to college.
“The most important thing to me is I get one more game with Brandon Cooper, I get one more game with Latrell McCutcheon,” he said. “Two kids that mean the world to me and to know that I have that opportunity is very special.”
It’s also an opportunity to work with some of the brightest coaching minds in the state. Wesche’s staff includes several friends, former teammates and fellow assistants who he believes will help bring the best out in the talented East athletes.
“It’s a cool opportunity to reconnect with some of these guys,” Wesche said. “Coach (Ryan) Gatch at Havre was the defensive line coach at Northern when I was there, and coach (Nathan) Wahl is now the head coach at (Billings) Skyview but he was my defensive coordinator for two years. I played football with Koda Tchida at Northern, I coached with Jay (Fredrickson) at the Badlands Bowl. Us as coaches are a very close fraternity, so whenever you get some extra time with those guys it’s pretty cool.”
The 72nd Annual East-West Shrine football game is set for July 21 at Memorial Stadium in Great Falls. The game will be broadcast on CBS affiliates throughout the state. Pregame coverage begins at 6 p.m., kickoff is set for 7 p.m.