This is the seventh in a nine-part series previewing fall high school sports. Wednesday: Class A football
WORDEN — Lane Sumner has lost four football games in his high school career.
Two state championships.
A first round playoff game.
One regular season game.
Everything else? Victories.
Over the span of three years, Sumner has been a constant in Huntley Project’s recent run of success.
He disdains losing, something he normally has not dealt with unless it is a big game. And last year’s early exit from the Class B playoffs might sting the most.
After losing 15 seniors the year before, Project did not miss a beat in the 2016 regular season, going a perfect 8-0 and earning a first-round home playoff game against Shelby. That is as far as they got, however, as Shelby won the game on the final play on a one-yard quarterback draw that gave the Coyotes a 40-37 shootout victory and an early exit for the Red Devils.
It was a brutal end to an otherwise smooth season.
“We all expected to go a lot further than that," Sumner recalled. "It took a lot of us a long time to get over that. We felt like we had a long ways to go and it feels like we got cut short."
"It’s been a bad taste in our mouth," Project football coach Guy Croy said. "It took these kids a month or more to really just pick their heads up.”
Looking past that now, the Red Devils focus their attention toward the 2017 campaign with Sumner back for a final year — another season with high expectations and lofty goals. Then he heads off to play football at Montana State.
Sumner was thrown into the fire right away, getting some carries in the state championship game against Townsend as a freshman, a year where he mostly played special teams. In his sophomore year, Sumner saw more time at running back but missed six games with a lacerated kidney. He made it back in time for the postseason, and started at running back in the state championship game against Fairfield.
As a junior, Sumner truly broke out. He missed the first two games of the season due to illness, but made it back to start on both offense and defense for the remainder of the year. In seven games, Sumner totaled 15 touchdowns, 13 on the ground, while racking up 994 yards rushing and another 318 and two touchdowns receiving.
This year will see more of the same from Sumner, who will start at running back and outside linebacker for the Red Devils. He added that he would be the team’s kicker as well.
“It’s going to be fun, and I’m looking forward to it,” Sumner said.
That includes beginning this year healthy.
“The injuries and everything, that’s really when you learn how much you like the game,” Sumner said. “Just having to sit there and watch people play it is tough.”
Specifically, he remembers watching Project lose to Baker his sophomore year when he was recovering from the kidney injury, something he sustained two games earlier against Malta in what he considered a breakout game for him after scoring three touchdowns.
“That was tough having to watch that … having your best game yet and then it’s all just gone,” Sumner said. “It’s stuff like that that makes you come back harder and stronger and knowing what you have to do. The setbacks are just fuel for the fire.”
That fire is also driven by how close the Red Devils have been to a pair of state titles. In 2014 Project lost 14-7 to Townsend, and in 2015 were downed by Fairfield 27-13.
Though he has been close in football, Sumner has had the taste of being a state champ in another sport. He’s the two-time defending Class B 100 meter state champion in track. He said knowing how much he wanted titles in track and succeeding helps him see what he wants his team to feel in the fall.
“I think of how close we have been, and that alone makes me kind of antsy,” Sumner said. “At this point I’m thinking, heck, we could have two state championships and two trophies over there in the showcase, like the 2008-2009 teams that we heard about growing up.”
His skills on the gridiron were enough for Montana State to offer him a partial scholarship, and Sumner committed in early August. Sumner believed college football was his best shot at playing a college sport, and being a Bobcat legacy, he could not pass up the offer.
“I’ll be a third- or fourth-generation Cat,” Sumner, who was being looked at by the Griz as well, said. “We grew up with season tickets. It’s just cool tailgating before games. I remember playing pickup games with everybody outside, and there used to be like one band member that came over from the marching band that played pickup football with us, and I always thought that was the coolest thing as a kid.
“Just growing up around that atmosphere it really makes you want to be a part of it. It was the history that really brought me there. If I want to win games I want to do it in blue and gold, and that was really the deciding factor.”
Croy also expressed his excitement for his senior-to-be.
“I’m excited for him,” Croy said. “A lot of kids dream of playing college football, and some, if you can get to that Big Sky level, it’s an opportunity. I know he really was hoping to continue his football career and to get that offer and to accept it, I’m happy for him and I wish him well.
“Everybody thinks of the Class B track and state championships. I’m not sure I’ve had a player that can go from zero to top speed in that short amount of time. When you get an opening and he hits that hole, it’s tough.”
While Sumner’s speed and explosion are second to none, football is a game of size as well. At 5-foot-7 and 180 pounds, Croy said size was never a worry for him when Sumner joined the team.
“I’m not a size guy,” Croy said. “I think the size of your heart, the power of your mind matter the most. I tell my kids you don’t have to be big to play this game. I think that’s a misnomer. I’ve had 5-2 all-state linebackers.”
Sumner said he did worry about his size, but it is something he cannot change.
“You always have to wake up and say, 'I am what I am, and I have to make the most of it,'” Sumner said. “I’ve always thought of that as maybe something that maybe stops me from being that next level. But obviously that’s not the case now.”
With so many goals checked off his list, Sumner now turns his attention toward the one that has eluded him time and time again.
“Just to bring that to the town and the school, it’s a whole different ball game,” Sumner said. “Just knowing how much that means to everybody.
"Being able to walk back in here and see that first place trophy in the case, that would be cool.”