BILLINGS — Rocky Mountain College's administration reacted Friday to the Frontier Conference’s day-prior announcement to postpone football in 2020, saying the school did everything it could to ensure a fall season but that it stands by the league’s decision.
The Frontier’s intention in the age of COVID-19 was to play an eight-game, round-robin schedule between its five Montana-based teams — Rocky, Carroll College, Montana Tech, Montana Western and MSU-Northern — after affiliate members College of Idaho, Eastern Oregon and Southern Oregon had previously opted out.
But the ongoing pandemic rendered that plan unfeasible.
Rocky, in a press release, said it looks forward to potentially playing football in the spring, and that more pressing issues are currently at stake.
“There are few things I want more than to see our athletes — in all sports — compete,” RMC President Bob Wilmouth was quoted in the release. “One of the things I want more, though, is to safely provide our students with the best educational experience possible.
“It became clear that our attention and resources are best focused in that direction.”
Whether a spring season is doable remains a question mark, but the upheaval won’t stop Rocky from beginning its previously scheduled fall camp on time.
The Battlin’ Bears will hit the field Saturday morning at Herb Klindt Field for the first of what second-year coach Chris Stutzriem said will be a 12-practice schedule that will last through the end of the month.
Stutzriem said Rocky plans to finish fall camp Aug. 30 with a team scrimmage.
But here’s a question: With no games on the horizon, will it be difficult to manufacture energy and maintain focus from players who still don’t know when their next live game will occur?
“I think it will be the complete opposite,” countered Stutzriem, whose team will practice in helmets only both Saturday and Sunday. “Being on the field, this will give them a sense of normalcy to where they can get out and just play football.
“I expect it to be good. If the intensity isn’t there we’ll make sure we take care of that as coaches. I think the coaches will be fired up about it. I’m excited for it. We’ll make sure we bring the energy and our guys will feed off that.”
There is a number of on-field questions the Battlin’ Bears aim to solve between now and their next kickoff, whenever that may be. Notable is the competition at quarterback, where veterans Nate Dick, a Billings Senior product, and Drew Korf return.
Dick and Korf both saw time under center in 2019, and Stutzriem said they are the top two contenders for playing time.
“They do some things that are completely opposite on the field,” Stutzriem said. “Nate is probably a little bit more with his legs and Drew’s a little bit more with his arm, but they’re both really smart and they’re great leaders.”
Meanwhile, the receiver position seems to be one of the deepest on the team, with Lucas Overton leading the pack. Overton led the Frontier with 67 receptions last season.
Defensively, the linebacker group gets a boost with the return of Huntley Project product Dallas Mack, who missed last season with a knee injury. Added to the mix is an intriguing Power Five dropdown in Alex Bush, formerly of TCU.
Also back is Nolan McCafferty, who made 85 tackles from his linebacker spot last year, fifth-most in the conference.
Stutzriem said he also likes the look of the defensive back group, as well as a committee of running backs that churned out just under 1,500 yards.
As for Saturday’s practice, Stutzriem said the team is likely to go fairly light, with a focus on individual position-group work, special teams and some seven-on-seven drills. By Tuesday, the Battlin’ Bears expected to be in helmets and shoulder pads.
One objective is to make sure everybody on the roster gets snaps during practice.
“With this whole thing going on, we’ve told the fourth and fifth string guys that they’ve got to be ready,” Stutzriem said. “We’re going to try to get as many reps for as many guys as we can, not overwork their bodies and go from there.”
The practice routine, Stutzriem said, is likely to follow a two-days-on, one-day-off format. Following the Aug. 30 scrimmage, Stutzriem said Rocky will transition its focus to the weight room and conditioning, and that it hopes to begin practice again in October.
At the NAIA level, teams are afforded 24 weeks of on-field football activities per year, and Stutzriem’s team hopes to utilize as much of that as it can before the games start again for real.
“We’re going to go until they tell us we can’t,” Stutzriem said. “Nothing changes on our end. We’re going to go slow and make sure we’re healthy and get our young guys ready, and we’re going to look back and hopefully see that it’s a blessing for us.
“We’re going to prepare every day. We’re going to be in this thing together and tackle it day by day and do the best we can.”