MANHATTAN – When you think of Class B powerhouse football teams, the Manhattan Tigers are usually in the conversation. But practicing next to a cow pasture you may not expect it.
“We’re a bunch of kids that want to play football and we’ll grind out every single second of the game till the end. We just won’t quit,” said Clay Johnson, a senior running back for the Tigers. “A lot of us are coming fresh of the field farmers. I mean a lot of us are just hard working kids and we come to football practice ready to work.”
That blue collar mentality led Manhattan to a 7-3 overall record last season, losing to Eureka, the eventual state champions, 36-0 in the quarterfinals. The Tigers have been one of the last eight teams standing in Montana every year since 2015 and now it’s about getting over the hump.
“The quarterfinal game has kind of been our nemesis every year the last three years. We talked about how we have to work hard and take one game at a time and it starts this week with Bigfork,” said Manhattan head coach Chris Grabowska.
The last time the Tigers advanced past the semifinals was in 2010, beating Columbus 27-14 in the quarterfinals. They went on to lose Fairfield 44-12 in the state semifinal. But it’s a fresh season and Manhattan is a young team.
For the youth, that first game can be a bit nerve racking, especially since it’s in Washington-Grizzly Stadium, the biggest venue in the state. But the Tigers aren’t worried about the jitters.
“It’s a big stadium, but every football’s the same. You got the white lines, once you step inside the white lines you got to do your assignments,” said Grabowska.
The team does have some new looks, especially at quarterback where wide receiver Michael Nehring will take over under center after Jake Dyk, the previous starter, graduated.
“It’s definitely different, but it’s a challenge I’m ready to accept and I think it will be good,” said Nehring. “I think the hardest part is at quarterback rather than just knowing your own responsibilities, you have to know everyone’s and be a leader and direct in what to do.”
But the senior captain has filled in under center before after a few injuries caused a vacancy at the QB position.
With a bunch of returners of defense, the Tigers say their run stopping ability is their big strength. They have the tools and they have the hunger to get past the quarterfinals, but there’s only one way to achieve that goal.
“I think we have to prepare even harder than before and just mentally be ready and know that by that time of the season it’s a grind to keep going but we just need to want it more than the other team,” Nehring said.
Manhattan opens up their 2018 season at Washtington-Grizzly Stadium against Bigfork on Friday at 7 p.m.