Missoula Hellgate vs. Missoula Sentinel

Missoula Hellgate is going through with plans to sit out the 2016 football season with plans to field a varsity team in 2017.

MISSOULA — Since he was hired as Missoula Hellgate's football coach June 21, Mick Morris has been forced to move at a frenetic pace. He has lived out of a suitcase in his brother's Missoula house for the better part of July while trying to settle into his new job and negotiate a tricky relocation timeline for his young family.

Once those two items are checked off his agenda, Morris' next project will take considerably more time to complete.

Morris revealed Tuesday that Hellgate will not play a varsity football schedule in 2016. The Knights will instead turn their attention toward creating the infrastructure necessary to getting back on the varsity football field in the near future.

"There is a small chance that could change, but right now we're pushing forward with the idea that we're going to play a sub-varsity schedule," Morris said. 

If that plan continues forth — and it's likely it will considering the turnout Hellgate has received from its upperclassmen during summer workouts — Hellgate would be prohibited by the Montana High School Association from playing a varsity schedule in 2017.

It is possible, however, that Hellgate could petition the MHSA board in January to play in 2017.

Mark Beckman, the executive director of the MHSA, said in June that if Hellgate could convince the board that it had enough players and a plan in place to field a team, then it was possible the Knights could play a year from now. 

Hellgate activities director Jeff Hays also confirmed Tuesday that Hellgate will have a plan prepared to present to the board at the turn of the new year. 

"There is no quick fix. It’s not like we can snap our fingers and magically have 100 kids," said Morris, who helped rebuild programs in Nampa, Idaho and at Conrad. "It’s a process and it might take a couple years to get our numbers up. But in the process we’re just working with what we have and  getting those kids ready to go."

Since arriving in Missoula in early July, Morris held a meeting with future players and parents to lay out his vision for Hellgate. With the help of a few former assistants, Morris has held two on-field workouts and has two more scheduled this week before football teams are placed under no-contact rules beginning Aug. 1.

Approximately 50 kids have made it to the workouts, but the bulk have come from a large sophomore class and a freshman class that quickly made an impression on the new coach. But the paltry turnout from the upper classes made it clear to Morris that he would spend his first season at Hellgate coaching the junior varsity. 

"In terms of calling kids and talking to kids there are four or five seniors … and like 12 juniors possibly," Morris said. "Of those 12 or 13 juniors, we’ve only had in the two nights a combined four show up."

"It’s not that there aren’t athletes at Hellgate," Morris added, "it’s a matter of getting those athletes out."

Hellgate settled on Morris in early February, but had to wait until an open teaching position became available before Morris could accept the position. That took nearly four months and it wasn't until a Missoula County Public Schools board meeting on July 12 that his appointment was approved. 

The time between the offer and the official hiring kept Morris from recruiting kids from within the school. He has since identified coaches he would like to add to his staff, but is still interviewing for positions. But the goal has been to bring in coaches with experience with the program and jobs in the building in one capacity or another. 

"That was my first order was just getting a coaching staff together of coaches of other sports and teachers at the school," Morris said. "Getting the coaches of other sports won't just help out football, it will help basketball, it'll help out wrestling, it'll help out track."

Morris said the plan for the near future is to play an eight-game sub-varsity schedule. It will open against Bozeman, but the number has been reduced with the elimination of games against Billings West and Billings Skyview. 

"It’s going to take time and I don’t know what that is going to look like exactly," Morris said, "but I’m confident that we’re going to get it turned around."

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