HELENA — For the first time in 20 years, there’s a completely new way of doing things.
The first-year coaching staff for the Carroll College football team began spring practice last week with three practices already in the books.
There are 12 more, including the April 27 spring game, to gather information. Coach Troy Purcell feels the coaches are learning as they go, just as much as the players.
He hopes to have a good idea of what the depth chart will look like and how to prepare for the season by the end of the spring.
“We want to improve each day,” Purcell said. “Everyone is learning what is expected. The learning curve will happen. Things will become easier. Things will become habit.”
For the upperclassmen, this could be a difficult situation. They know Purcell is watching everything and evaluating them.
There are no preconceived notions of what they can do after several years in the program.
“I evaluate in the weight room, in study hall, in classes, at breakfast check,” Purcell said. “These kids are constantly being evaluated. Some kids are moving up, some are moving down.”
It’s like the seniors are freshman all over again as they try to re-establish their roles for their last shot at making the postseason in their careers.
“This is the first time the coaches have seen us with pads on,” receiver Shane Sipes said. “Everything is open and up in the air right now. Everyone needs to prove what they got.”
Players have become accustomed to a way of training and playing for three or four years under retired coach Mike Van Diest. Van Diest evolved during his 20 years, but there was continuity year-to-year.
This year's players were already impressed with differences and the intensity of practices after just one workout.
“We are in a new system and learning everything again,” linebacker Chase Bowen said. “And we are doing our best to prove ourselves. Our play callings and stuff, we have to have our jobs down better. We just have to bring the energy.”
One of big changes is the tempo of practice. Purcell has players moving at a fast pace to get as much more in possible.
He wants to get as much on video as so he can evaluate, and teach, the players during the summer.
“They are evaluating every week,” running back Major Ali said. “He’s evaluating when he sees you in the hallway or in the PE Center. At workouts, body language and effort are important. Everyone has a clean slate, doesn’t matter if you are starter, all-conference or on scout team. Everyone has a fresh start, and everyone is out here competing.”
Purcell plans to prep the players for the fall, and then get going as quickly as possible come August to prepare for the season.
It might be a rebuilding year, but Purcell wants to begin the program's turnaround sooner than later.
“There’s a lot of excitement out here, but it helps to be older,” Bowen said. “You can push off the butterflies of having new coaches and new people looking at you. You can’t worry about people looking at you.”
Purcell says he already has a good idea who his leaders are going to be. He found out who to look to during winter conditioning.
He likes what he’s seen out of running back cornerback Isazah King, Ali, Sipes and Bowen, among others.
"You get a good feel during winter condition on who your winners are, who your leaders are,” Purcell said. “The senior class are the ones who have to do it. This is the last chance for them. I ask them how they want to be remembered as this first team in the new era of Carroll football.”
The key to the recent success of the Carroll men’s basketball team reaching the national championship game was first-year coach Kurt Paulson embraced his senior class early, and made them feel comfortable.
Paulson knew they had talent. He just needed to guide them and let them do their thing. Purcell is looking to do something similar.
“We have a lot to prove,” Sipes said. “The whole team bought into this new coaching staff. We are ready to win. We want to get after it.”
The new-look football team hopes to follow the path of the rebuilt basketball team and make an immediate impact.
“I have the same feelings the freshman have,” Ali said. “It’s all new and I just want to do what I can to get this team back on track, to win a conference championship and get to the postseason.”