HELENA — When Carroll College football’s new defensive coordinator Jared Petrino arrived, he made sure to remind remind the Saints players of how fortunate they were to have been led by Hall of Fame coach Mike Van Diest.

“I can’t screw it up,” Petrino said. “These guys do an unbelievable job coming to work every single day hungry and wanting to learn.”

Van Diest retired in November after 20 seasons at Carroll, but it wasn’t because of a poor defense.

In fact, for the past three seasons the Saints were near the top of the Frontier Conference.

Last year, they finished first in total defense, scoring defense, rush defense and pass defense. Carroll was also second in limiting opponents to first downs.

“It’s just an honor to be here and coach in his footsteps,” said Petrino of his former coach.“He did an unbelievable job coaching these kids.”

Petrino played linebacker for Van Diest during college, when he won back-to-back NAIA National Championships in 2002 and 2003.

Now coaching on the same sideline as his mentor, Petrino looks beyond defensive schemes. His defensive philosophy is stemmed through passion.

“Football is football,” Petrino said. “I just want our guys to play fast and play with emotion. I want them to play with a type of enthusiasm so that when (the opponent) steps on the field, it takes away their confidence because they know we are coming.”

Being that Saturday was the first time the Saints practiced with full pads on this spring, Petrino’s first objective was establishing a style of play, which he called T and T.

“I want to see how we tackle and how we can create takeaways,” Petrino said. “We tackled pretty well and we had three takeaways. It was definitely a good start to the culture that we are creating.”

Petrino arrived at Carroll after spending three years as Rocky Mountain College’s defensive coordinator. Last season, the Battlin’ Bears finished in the top 25 nationally in scoring defense and total defense.

Rocky Mountain featured players such as first team all-conference junior defensive end Ryder Rice and senior defensive back Keenan Fagan, but Petrino inherited some new players at Carroll to keep up his recent success.

The Saints return senior linebacker Chase Bowen, but Petrino said he is also looking for others to have an impact, such as Brian FauntLeRoy and Matt Kvech in the secondary and Nate McGree at linebacker.

“We are pretty deep,” Petrino said. “There are a lot of good names out there.”

The Saints resume with their early morning practices this week, which start at 5:15 a.m., and Petrino knows there is still plenty to work on before the April 27 spring game.

“I’m excited to see our growth,” Petrino said. “We have 10 more opportunities (to get better).”

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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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