Drummond-Philipsburg is returning a strong core to a team that was rarely tested on its way to the 8-Man state title last November. The Titans defeated Forsyth, 44-30, in the state championship game and expect another successful season.
“We’ve got a lot of kids coming back,” Drummond-Philipsburg head coach Mike Cutler said. “We’ve got four seniors — Luke Holland, Cain Hess, Riley Allen and Colby Manley — and these kids all are going to be three-year starters for us.”
Manley garnered all-state honors as a linebacker and fullback, where he imposes his physicality. Allen, after playing tight end last year, will split time between the offensive line and tight end, while Hess brings toughness on the interior of the offensive and defensive lines.
But arguably the biggest returner for the Titans is Jaxon Lee.. Lee, a junior, will also be a three-year starter. Cutler will look to move Lee around the field and get him the ball in space — a nightmare scenario for opposing coaches.
“It’s not difficult to come up with ways to get (Lee) the ball,” Cutler said. “We’re going to have him playing all kinds of different positions. He’s pretty spectacular when he gets his hands on the ball, but he’s only one part of the eight that we have on offense.”
“You want to take the ball out of those guys’ hands and force other playmakers to beat you. That’s what you want,” Fairview head coach Levi Seitz said of playmakers like Lee. “We don’t want our guys to be intimidated by them, but we want them to be ready and understand that these guys are the real deal. We saw (Lee) last year in the playoffs and he’s quite the player.”
As the defending state champions, Drummond-Philipsburg will enter each game with a target on its back. Perennial contenders loom — Fairview in the East, while Charlo looks to challenge Drummond-Phillipsburg in the West.
Fairview was trounced by Drummond-Philipsburg in the quarterfinals last season, 46-8, but returns most of its roster, led by junior running back/safety Cody Asbeck and senior quarterback/linebacker Carson Cayko. Fairview has used that disappointing playoff loss as motivation for the upcoming season.
“Last offseason they worked hard, but they definitely were more committed this year to getting bigger, stronger, faster,” Seitz said. “We had a few guys that were role players last year that are now going to be starters this year. Those were the guys that I was especially impressed with as far as getting in the weight room. … I think they’re as motivated as they’ve ever been.”
Drummond-Philipsburg and Fairview are among the favorites to compete for the 8-Man state title, but Charlo will be in the conversation, too. The Vikings lost in the 2017 quarterfinals to eventual runner-up Forsyth, but return one of the top players in the state in Landers Smith.
“One of the best, if not the best player in high school football is Landers Smith in Charlo,” Cutler said. “He’s been keeping people up (at night) for three years. That’s just the way it is. That kid, he’s going on to play at another level, that’s for sure. He’s a problem. I don’t even want to talk about him right now because he gives me nightmares.”
According to Cutler and Seitz, other teams expected to challenge for the state title include Scobey, Circle, Belt and Joliet. Drummond-Philipsburg begins its title defense against Alberton-Superior on Aug. 25 at home.