BILLINGS — There’s a lot of new for this year’s Rocky Mountain College football team.
And it starts at the top with new head coach Chris Stutzriem.
Stutzriem, the Battlin’ Bears' offensive coordinator in 2016 and 2017, replaces Jason Petrino, who took a job with FCS Southern Illinois as the defensive coordinator.
Along with some new assistant coaches, the defending Frontier Conference champions will have a new starting quarterback, some new players on the offensive line, new receivers in rotation, an entirely new group of linebackers and some new faces in the secondary.
Even the placekicker is a true freshman.
“We have a young group of guys who have some experience,” said senior running back Sam Sparks. “The young guys are coming together well.”
Sparks is one of just eight seniors on the roster.
New-look Rocky will be tested early, playing at No. 9 Dickinson State (N.D.) on Thursday at 6 p.m. The Battlin’ Bears are ranked No. 23 in the NAIA Preseason Top 25 poll.
“I like the way our team has come together,” said Stutzriem. “With a young team, you worry about the changes … working with a new coaching staff, new terminology. Everything has been great. The togetherness has been there.”
While some positions are a work in progress, Stutzriem said Nate Dick will be Rocky’s starting quarterback.
Dick, who led Billings Senior to Class AA titles in 2016 and 2017, had been in a competition with Drew Korf since spring camp earlier this year.
“With our situation at offensive line, Nate just does a few more things,” said the head coach. “He has the ability to make plays outside of the pocket.
“It was the hardest decision I’ve had to make. They were so close in everything. And both will play. We are going to use both of them.”
Dick, who began his college career at the University of Montana, appeared in three games last season before suffering a season-ending foot injury against the Blue Hawks. He was 5-of-9 passing for 22 yards and ran the ball 14 times for another 108 yards, including a touchdown.
This will be the 11th meeting between the two programs since 2008, with the Battlin’ Bears holding an 8-2 edge. Rocky won 21-10 last year at Herb Klindt Field.
“I think we have to come out and start fast,” Stutzriem said. “With young guys, you have to realize they are going to make mistakes. We have to limit our mistakes and turnovers.
“We have a young team and understand there will be highs and lows.”
The Battlin’ Bears finished 8-4 overall in 2018, including a forfeit to Carroll College. Rocky lost in the first round of the NAIA playoffs to eventual national champion Morningside of Iowa.
Dickinson State was 9-3, defeating Northwestern of Iowa in the first round of the playoffs. It was the Blue Hawks' first playoff road win in program history. Kansas Wesleyan beat DSU in the quarterfinals.
The Blue Hawks last beat Rocky in 2017, a 43-28 victory at the Biesiot Activities Center. Quarterback Hayden Gibson threw four touchdowns in the win. Gibson was just 19 of 40 for 235 yards and an interception last year in Billings.
The senior from Bismarck, North Dakota, is already DSU’s all-time passing leader with 6,492 yards.
Junior receiver Tyger Frye, once teammates with Dick at Senior, caught scoring passes of 47 and seven yards in the 2017 game. He caught a single-season school record 67 passes last year. Running back Amad Andrews also returns. He rushed for 955 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2018.
Pete Stanton, a native of Baker, is 42-15 in six seasons as head coach and has guided the Blue Hawks to four straight North Star Athletic Association titles and DSU was voted as the favorite for a fifth. Stanton, who is also the school’s athletic director, has been with the football program for 20 years.
Rocky’s first home game is Sept. 7 against Montana State-Northern.