GREAT FALLS -- T-shirts were sold Tuesday night at Great Falls' scrimmage against Indian Land. The solid red shirts had the Red Devils logo on the front. The back of the shirt read: "The Red Devils way or no way."
For the last three years, the Red Devils "way" has meant more wins each year.
Great Falls finished 4-7 in 2005 and improved to 8-5 in 2006. Last season, the Red Devils compiled an 11-3 record and played for the Class A Division II state championship, falling 14-7 to Blackville-Hilda.
This year, the Red Devils' roster sports 16 seniors. At a small school of about 300 students, that equates to nearly half the roster.
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Players play both ways more often than not. It's a matter of fact, not choice.
Terrence Jeter exemplifies Class A football. The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder plays fullback on offense, starts at defensive back, returns punts and plays on the kickoff team. There aren't many times you won't see him on the field.
"We are a senior-heavy team, but that's almost all we've got," Great Falls coach Kenny Schofield said before the scrimmage.
"A lot of schools would love that situation. The problem is the first injury we have or player that needs a rest, we don't have many options."
Schofield is already down one lineman. Senior Stiles Brunson would have started again this year as a pulling guard, but he had shoulder surgery last Friday. The injury occurred in spring practice. According to Schofield, Brunson was blocking when his shoulder popped out and back in.
"He played baseball this summer with the injury and just had the surgery. Even if he had it done in the spring, he wouldn't be able to play football," Schofield said of Brunson. "We'll miss him. He is charismatic. He led by his actions."
Brunson broke his left hand in a car accident during the season last year. He missed one game, then returned to play the rest of the year with a cast.
So, Schofield will hold his breath every time one of his players is slow to get up after a play this season.
Jeter carried the ball against Indian Land in the scrimmage. He was tackled and driven head-first into the turf. He got up, ran to the sidelines and threw his helmet. He was hurting.
"It's my back," Jeter said. "I'll be OK."
Jeter is a defensive back first. He said he likes to hit and get interceptions. He led the team with six picks last season.
Daon Rice (6-3, 290) is a two-way senior lineman. He made some defensive plays early in the scrimmage.
On one play, he shook off a block and moved quickly along the line of scrimmage to make a tackle. The next play, he broke through to stuff the ballcarrier for a loss.
"Tonight will tell us a whole lot. I want to see how our guys fill in," Rice said prior to the game.
"We remember the 'L,'" Rice said of the state championship loss. "Hopefully, we can go back and win it."
For his part, Rice thinks the offensive line is on the same page.
"We all know everyone's abilities. We just have to practice hard and go play," he said.
Quarterback Gaither Bumgardner is confident with the cast around him. The lanky senior started every game the past two years.
"We are coming together well. It will be tough to improve on making it to the state championship game, but that is always our goal. It is within our reach," Bumgardner said.
Schofield gives Bumgardner a lot of freedom on the field, allowing him to call audibles.
"We are very fortunate to have Bumgardner," Schofield said. "His command of the game is very unique for a high school senior. He has big audible power. We have just two rules for him; no audible is ever wrong, and go with the play that lets us win."
Working on passing game
Great Falls uses a fullback (Jeter) and two wing backs -- A.J. Squirewell and Keitron Johnson. But early in Tuesday's scrimmage was a time to work on the passing game.
The first play was a completed pass across the middle. Bumgardner overthrew his receiver on the next play.
Tight end Josh Lynn (6-5, 245), wide receiver Terrell Hutchinson and the backs are potential receiving targets. But center Mike Griffin and Bumgardner have to make a clean exchange of the football before any passing can take place.
The shotgun proved to be a little tricky Tuesday. One snap sailed over Bumgardner's head. The next exchange was gathered in by the 6-6 quarterback, but he had to leap for it.
Those are good mistakes to make in a scrimmage. Make them now, and correct them before the games count.
Great Falls opens the season at Schofield's alma mater, Gilbert High School, on Aug. 22. Schofield graduated in 1980.
Other games to look forward to are Sept. 12 at Chester, Oct. 17 at Class A Division I state champ Chesterfield and Oct. 24 against rival Lewisville.
Schofield is entering his ninth year as head coach at Great Falls. With a career mark of 98-68 he is just two wins shy of 100.