Of the 280 total students enrolled at Great Falls High School, 41 boys from grades 9-12 will be adorning the Red Devils' colors entering the 2010 season. Only nine of the aforementioned students will be seniors on the team, so inexperience has understandably become a point of concern.
Yet, coach Kenny Schofield has every intention of living up to the level of consistency he's established at Great Falls during his 11-year tenure.
"We'll have players from freshman to senior playing out there for us this season," Schofield said. "I'd love to have more pure athletes, but we've always been a small school so we have to make do. Fortunately, we have the strongest group of young men we've had since I first came here."
The Class A Red Devils finished the 2009 season at 3-8, far below the consistently high expectations of Schofield. But despite the trappings of being a smaller, more underequipped program, Schofield described his team's underwhelming performance last season as "an off year" and counts on the Red Devils rebounding in a big way.
"At the start of last season, we had 20 seniors that graduated and three underclassman that didn't return to the team," Schofield said. "That's 23 out of 32 players that left us at the beginning of last season. So the kids we sent out there were green and they definitely took their lumps. We finished with the second off year of my 10 year run, but I expect us to bounce right back this season."
Schofield cited the inexperience of the linebacker core specifically as a reason for the Red Devils' lukewarm 2009 campaign, a sentiment that senior LB/FB Alstevis Squirewell completely agrees with. But with another year under his belt, Squirewell, who's looked upon as a team leader, sees tremendous upside with the younger class and his team in general.
"What the quarterback is to the offense is what I try to be on defense, and that's a leader," Squirewell said. "I'll call audibles and make sure everyone is on assignment. And from what I've seen, the freshmen and sophomores on the team have me excited for the season. Those guys will be making a championship run in the years to come, and hopefully they'll help us do the same this year."
Squirewell also plays a blocking fullback role on the offensive side, adding his stout frame to a lineman core that conditioned tirelessly in the offseason to become a larger, more imposing unit.
Second-year quarterback Shaq Lamar, tasked with his own individual conditioning regime, said the difference between this year's offensive line compared to last was immediately noticeable.
"Every guy you see on the line can squat 500 pounds and bench well over 300," said a wide-eyed Lamar, who won a YMCA football championship with teammate Squirewell at the age of 11. "You don't see that too often with teams' O-lines being so consistently powerful. I've known a lot of these guys since they were kids, and to see how big they got in the offseason was crazy."
When prompted to describe what he needed to work on in the offseason, Lamar discussed adding another dimension to his role in the offense.
"Last year I was a little pass happy, and when you have guys constantly blitzing you it can be trouble," Lamar said. "So my main focus was speed, being elusive and running the ball more."
Though the all-around effort and widespread optimism heading into the 2010 season has the Red Devils' aspirations high, the team finds itself flying beneath the radar because of its lack of athleticism in comparison to larger programs.
But to Schofield, who points to last season's early playoff loss to eventual Division II state champions Williston-Elko, his team is more than capable of competing with the best.
"I don't really consider us underdogs though we might be called that," Schofield said. "Last year we gave a very good Williston-Elko team all it can handle, but our athletes weren't quite up to snuff. We started gelling at the end of 2009, and I think we've only gotten stronger and more cohesive since then."
The "underdog" label is fitting when considering the region the Red Devils reside in. They are the only Division II team in a region comprised entirely of Division I Class A teams, and they begin their season against an out-of-region Class AAA Nation Ford squad Aug. 27. Yet for Schofield, who answers his office phone with a "Red Devil Country" greeting, his program's pride and tradition far outweighs its obvious shortcomings.
"Wins and losses don't matter much to us," said Schofield. "If we know what to do and when to do it, I'm more than confident that these boys will do the Red Devil name proud."