HELENA — Last season, head coach Troy Purcell was the new face at Carroll College football.

Now, he will be one of the more familiar faces within the program.

The Saints signed 37 new players this past offseason, including four transfers, as Purcell looks to begin his second season.

He also hired three new assistant coaches and promoted Alex Pfannenstiel to offensive coordinator.

“I think we have a really good base and a really good foundation,” said Purcell during the Frontier Conference’s virtual Media Day through Zoom. “We have a great coaching staff.”

The Saints came off a successful campaign finishing 6-4 overall and third in the conference standings behind the College of Idaho and Montana Western.

Now in his second year, Purcell wants to build on that success. 

“As long as we are improving and as long as our guys continue to buy into the winning-one-rep-at-a-time mentality, I think we will get to where we want to be and we’ve had a lot of success with that,” Purcell said.

But a handful of new players is not the only challenge this season.

Coaches and players have had to adapt during the coronavirus pandemic that has already caused the cancellation of spring football and an unknown future.

“It’s an ever-changing game and an ever-changing world,” Purcell said. “You have to keep moving forward. If you are happy where you’re at or stagnant, the world us going to pass you by. We have to keep that moving-forward mentality.”

Whatever happens, the defense will see the biggest changes. Carroll returns just four starters from last year’s group that ranked fourth in the conference in total and scoring defense.

Helena High alum Zack Spiroff played in all 10 games last season as a true freshman, while David Petersen, Garrett Kocab and Nate McGree also return the Saints’ 4-3 scheme.

Cyle Watts will also be a relatively new face, appearing in just six games last season, while transfer Nainoa Soto, redshirt sophomore Ryan Olson and true freshman Mike Kavila will also get time in the secondary.

Carroll will also have a defensive coordinator in Wes Nurse, who spent last year coaching cornerbacks at NCAA Division I Cal Poly. His defensive philosophy includes attacking and dictating what the opponent is going to do.

The offensive side will see much more experience with 10 starters returning, including the conference’s leading running back Matthew Burgess, quarterback Devin Bridgewater and wide receiver Shane Sipes.

“We have some real solid players that we have coming back,” Purcell said.

Sipes, now a senior, returns as an all-American who led the team in receiving yards, but the Saints also showed the Frontier Conference that their younger players could make an impact.

Burgess led the conference in rushing as a true freshman, finishing with 1,076 yards and 15 touchdowns, while Bridgewater started all 10 games, completed 51 percent of his passes and connected for 19 touchdowns with only five interceptions.

Down the depth chart, Purcell also praised senior quarterback Kolby Killoy, who played in every game as a sophomore under coach Mike Van Diest, and the young combination of running backs, Kaleb Adams and Duncan Kraft.

Adams received limited touches as a redshirt freshman, running for just 87 yards, while Kraft redshirted last season.

“These guys are coming up. We just have to see how it all plays out,” Purcell said. “Without spring ball, it’s hard to evaluate.”

Others returning include tight end Tony Collins, who finished third on the team in total catches, seniors wide receiver Joe Farris and Kyle Pierce.

On special teams, the Saints also return kickers Steven Powell and Josh Kraft.

Carroll, nor any of the Montana teams in the Frontier, will know what a schedule will be like this season after the College of Idaho, Southern Oregon and Eastern Oregon decided to move their football schedules to the spring.

The Frontier Conference Council of Presidents will meet later this week to make decisions as to the conference moving forward.

“We just hope we can continue and get to the fall here and keep our fingers crossed everyday and keep moving forward,” Purcell said. “We got some exciting things coming.”

Ryan Kuhn covers Carroll College athletics and high school sports for the Independent Record and 406mtsports.com. Follow him on Twitter at @rskuhn

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