HELENA — Carroll College running back Major Ali knows all too well how spring football works.

He spent the last three spring camps showing coaches what he can do.

Now in his fourth season, he is doing even more.

First-year Saints coach Troy Purcell said last Friday everyone is battling for positions, but for Ali and some of the other upperclassmen, it’s also a chance to establish themselves as leaders.

“We are expected to come out here and lead,” Ali said. “Now we just have to continue to lead.”

Ali is the lone senior in a pack of running backs otherwise comprised of juniors and sophomores.

And it didn’t take long for him to realize the importance of speaking up.

“I’ve probably said more words in the first eight practices than I have in the past four springs combined,” Ali said. “I’m definitely getting used to being more vocal on the field.”

That doesn’t mean he has stopped teaching by example. After all, he is the only running back with a good amount of game experience.

Junior Griphen Lee is returning, but the only game he played in was against a one-win Montana State-Northern team.

Carroll running backs should be used to getting thrown into the deep end; just look at Ali at the beginning of his career.

Ali, who originally arrived from Peninsula High in Gig Harbor, Washington, played in all 10 games his freshmen season.

Now he is nearing the 2,500 career rushing mark.

That doesn’t mean he’ll stop trying to improve.

“Coaches are making a big emphasis with my pad level,” Ali said. “I’m still running too high and then concentrating on ball security and gaining some speed when I hit the open field.”

Ali is just one example of the upperclassmen learning to become leaders.

Junior wide receivers Shane Sipes and Joe Farris finished setting an example after last season combining for 1,116 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.

Now, as juniors in a deep receiving group, they not only have to learn a new offense, but help the younger players get ready for next fall.

“The biggest difference is that we have to do everything faster,” Sipes said. “We are never standing around. We are always moving.”

The Saints graduated tight end Eric Dawson, who finished as the team’s second leading receiver, so Sipes and Farris know how important it is for the younger players to get reps and the opportunity to prove themselves atop the depth chart.

“This is just the time for the basics,” Sipes said. “We need to make sure everyone is getting it right."

But that won’t deter the two from taking some time out to compete this spring.

The Saints finished last season at the bottom of the Frontier Conference in passing yards and now they look to improve that stat.

Sipes and Farris both agreed that they both have a good relationship and understand what each of their roles are both on and off the field.

“We push each other every single day,” Farris said. “He’ll be (Randy) Moss, I’ll be (Chris) Carter.”

Ryan Kuhn covers Carroll College athletics for the Independent Record and 406mtsports.com. Email him at ryan.kuhn@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @rskuhn

Carroll College sports reporter

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