HELENA — Carroll College football coach Troy Purcell arrived home from La Grande, Oregon.
His weekend didn’t go the way he would have liked. The Saints lost their final game of the year to Eastern Oregon.
But, looking back on his first season, Purcell couldn’t have asked for a better start after taking over the program from Mike Van Diest just 11 months ago.
He was proud of his players’ willingness to compete and continue to grow each week.
“We preached words of getting better with each play and each rep,” Purcell said. “By the end of the year, we were a pretty dang good football team.”
Carroll wasn’t expected to succeed in Purcell’s first year. The Frontier Conference coaches and the media picked the Saints to finish seventh out of eight teams.
Carroll was also going through a stretch of four years without a winning season.
“We just wanted to focus on what we could do this year,” Purcell said.
And the Saints did.
Carroll finished with six wins, its most since 2014, and third in the conference standings behind No. 5 College of Idaho and No. 22 Montana Western.
The Saints offensive production increased by 76.2 yards per game this season and featured quarterback Devan Bridgewater and running back Matthew Burgess, each with three more years of eligibility.
“There is a good foundation with a year of experience under their belts,” Purcell said. “That experience is unbelievable. You just can’t measure that.”
When Purcell was hired back in December 2018, he brought with him a new culture.
Or C4 he called it.
C4 is the combination of the players choosing their character, controlling their effort, attitude and toughness, being confident in their decision making and loving their teammates.
“There was a lot of stuff that needed to happen over the past year to give the program new philosophies,” Purcell said.
While Carroll made vast improvements in number of wins and offensive and defensive production, Purcell said there are still things that need to improve if the Saints want to get back to the playoffs.
Carroll finished the season with three of its four losses coming on the road. Two of those losses, to Southern Oregon and Eastern Oregon, came by a combined three points.
But it will get easier.
The coaching staff, which Purcell has not announced any changes to as of yet, will have another season to study and develop schemes for teams in the Frontier Conference.
It’s been just days since Carroll’s season came to a close, but coaches are already out on the recruiting trail.
Purcell said he will look at players straight out of high school in addition to transfers.
“Recruiting is the most important part of the season,” Purcell said. “You have to bring good guys in to continue the trend upward and continue the excellence of Carroll College.”
The Saints will graduate 15 seniors, including a defense made up of linemen Cole Greff and Craig Kein, linebackers Chase Bowen and Dylan Kresge and defensive backs Isazah King, Matt Kvech and Parker Stenersen.
Purcell said having depth is always important and he will look to improve his offensive line. The Saints gave up 10 sacks this past season.
On the defensive side, the Saints will need more in the secondary.
“We are going after everything, but those two spots will be a focus,” Purcell said. “Knock on wood, we were pretty healthy throughout the year.”
KEEP ON MOVING FORWARD
Purcell liked the structure he developed when it came to the energy his players brought.
“They are fired up,” Purcell said. “They wanted to go to practice at 6 o’clock in the morning and they wanted to be there. They wanted to get better.”
Carroll certainly improved over Purcell’s 11 months running the program. Now, the question will be how much will they improve over the next 11 months?
“These kids are hungry to learn,” Purcell said. “If you have that as a motivation, you can be very successful in life.”