HELENA – It’s no secret that football has gone flashy.
Spread offenses, run-pass-options and high-scoring contests are a constant on the football fields – professional, college and at the high school level. Despite the run-and-gun mentality, there are some Montana prep teams finding success on the ground.
Bozeman’s Joe Olson was on pace to break the Class AA career rushing record before an injury last weekend. Billings West’s Demarcus Carr is averaging 160 yards per game with 10 rushing touchdowns, while Kalispell Flathead’s Blake Counts has amassed an incredible 1,181 yards and 15 total touchdowns in just six games.
Sometimes lost in the conversation of Montana’s best backs, though, is Helena High senior Grady Koenig, whose old-school style differs from his counterparts.
“Grady, the thing about him is, Grady’s a grinder. He’s just a grinder. He’s not going to do the flashy dance. Some of the guys you just mentioned, you watch them on film and they’re a different animal group,” said Helena High head coach Scott Evans. “They can do cuts on an edge, the Olson kid can fall down, get back up and run for 100 yards. DeMarcus is just, incredible athletes overall. What Grady does, Grady’s kind of an old-school guy. He’s a grinder. He doesn’t do anything spectacular, he’s just effective. I like his attitude with it, too.”
“A little bit. I’m kind of a grinder, you know? I get back at it, every time I get knocked down I get back up and go hard again,” said Koenig. “I maybe don’t have all the moves, but I’ll push and drive through people. That’s a little different than some of the other kids in the state, but it’s worked for me.”
Koenig’s wear-them-down style has paid off for the Bengals, particularly in last Friday’s come-from-behind win over Great Falls High. The bruising Koenig carried 23 times for 274 yards and five touchdowns, tying a program-record for most rushing scores in a game.
“It’s awesome. It’s really cool to know that I’m up there with some pretty good running backs,” Koenig said of tying the school record. “You go down a little bit in history, which is awesome to know that I earned that as we played in that game last week.”
The five scores are obviously a career-high, but what about the 274 rushing yards?
“I think so. That’s got to be. That’s my best and it felt good to get that many, you know?” he said.
Helena High, 5-1 this season, doesn’t need Koenig to flirt with school records, but it does rely on him to move the chains. The senior totes the rock 20, sometimes 30 times, per contest, churning out more than five yards per carry, wearing opposing defenses down.
It’s also allowed Koenig to prove to his hard-working offensive line, their running back isn’t afraid to get dirty and make contact, much like they are.
“Oh yeah, for sure. I’ll hit people just as hard as they hit me. They feel like that’s a good thing,” Koenig said of his blockers. “They push me along and it just helps everybody. Everyone gets pushed and we just push on forward as a team. That’s big for us.”
“I’ll tell you what, if you asked our offensive line coach (Bob Sampson), his favorite phrase is, ‘run, run, run, run, run.’ He sounds like a bad engine sometimes,” laughed Evans, “but having an offensive line with Sampson and the boys up there, that’s always a blessing. We’re very blessed with having a good O-line, a good O-line coach that gets us a premium run game every year. I really like that, and it’s a good thing to have.”
The Class AA schedule was slated to pit two of Montana’s top backs, Koenig and Olson, against one another when Helena High travels to Bozeman on Friday. But an injury on Olson’s first carry against Flathead last week will prevent the showdown.
“Losing a premium athlete like that at any level, doesn’t matter if it’s pro, college or high school, it’s sad to see. That’s what makes the game so great to watch,” said Evans. “I mean, what an incredible player. He’s been picked up by (Montana State) and there’s a good reason why. To see him out, that’s sad for us, too. We want to face the best. You always want to face the best, because it shows who you are, as well. Hopefully he has a speedy recovery, I don’t think it’s the best injury on earth, but we just wish the best for him.”
“It would have been, I feel bad for him. It sucks to get hurt,” added Koenig. “As a senior, I don’t want to get hurt. I want to play in every game, because it’s my last year. I was looking forward to it, it was going to be a battle. Now he’s gone, but I’m sure they’ve still got a dude that’s pretty good, but it will be a little different without him, for sure.”
Bozeman backup McCade O’Reilly picked up where Olson left off Friday, rushing for 225 yards and five scores in the win over the Braves. Olson he’s not, but it appears fans will get their running back face-off, nonetheless.
“O’Reilly walked in last week and I’ll tell you what, he’s a heck of a middle linebacker, too, but going on the other side of the ball, he’s carried the ball quite a bit this year, so he’s not an amateur at it by any means,” said Evans.