Chris Stutzriem

Chris Stutzriem takes over the Rocky Mountain College football program. The defending Frontier Conference champions open spring drills on Friday.

BILLINGS — New players, new coaches, same goal.

The Chris Stutzriem era for Rocky Mountain College football begins in earnest when the Battlin’ Bears open spring drills on Friday at 4:10 p.m. at Herb Klindt Field. 

The defending Frontier Conference champions will have 15 practices, culminating with the annual spring game on April 13.

Stutzriem, who was Rocky’s offensive coordinator in 2016 and 2017, returned to the Battlin’ Bears in December as the head coach. He replaces Jason Petrino, who left to become the defensive coordinator for Southern Illinois University. Stutzriem spent the 2018 season with Southwest Oklahoma State.

“We have to make sure the Frontier Conference championship stays here,” said Stutzriem.

The new head coach and his assistants inherit a team that finished 8-4 overall, winning its first Frontier Conference title since 1999 and reaching the NAIA playoffs for the first time since 2013. Rocky lost to eventual national champion Morningside of Iowa in the first round.

The 2018 team had 25 seniors on the roster, including quarterback Jacob Bakken, the league’s offensive player of the year.

“We have a young team so we have to work three times as hard,” Stutzriem said. “We want to reload, not rebuild.”

Stutzriem expects 86 players for spring drills. After practicing Friday and Saturday, the team will settle into a Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday routine.

“I want consistent competition,” said the new head coach of his early expectations. “It’s a competition out there for the whole group.”

And it won’t be all work and no fun for Rocky the first two days of practice. With a $20 spending limit, the coaches will be dressing in St. Patrick’s Day attire for Saturday’s session. The players will vote for best costume.

“You’ve got to have a little fun,” Stutzriem said.

Along with replacing Bakken, Rocky will have to re-tool its offensive line — only Tanner Bloom returns as a starter —along with the linebacker corps and secondary.

“We want to make sure the young guys feel good about themselves and make sure the foundation is good,” Stutzriem said. “We’ll add different schemes and plays when we think they’re ready to do so.”

Drew Korf and Nathan Dick will match reps at the quarterback position. Korf appeared in nine games last fall, throwing for 426 yards and five touchdowns. Dick was in three games before suffering a season-ending foot injury against Dickinson State.

“Oh yeah there is,” said Stutzriem of having a quarterback competition in camp. “I’m looking for somebody to run the team. Both guys are tremendous leaders. They have different talents but are also similar in some ways.

“We’ve got to find a way to use both guys. They’re too good of athletes to be sitting. We have to find ways to use both their skill sets. The best thing is they are each other’s biggest fan.”

Stutzriem added he won’t have a starting quarterback selected until approximately the ninth practice of fall camp.

Some of the players got a jump start on Thursday with a some NFL scouts hosting a “Rising Junior Day” on campus where the players were given the Wonderlic test, measured and timed.

Along with the players, spring drills offers an educational opportunity for the new coaches.

“The new coaches, they’re also learning,” Stutzriem said. “It’s a learning process for everybody.”

Rocky’s 2019 opener is August 29 at Dickinson State.

Email Joe Kusek at joe.kusek@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsJoe

Sports writer at the Billings Gazette

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