Eight-man football looked strong west of the Divide last season until the Northern C swept the league in the first round of the postseason.
No division in the state lost more talent to graduation than the Western C, but traditional powers Flint Creek (Drummond-Philipsburg) and Charlo still look to be strong contenders on a statewide level. Arlee is hoping to build on a playoff berth a year ago, but the playoff picture seems to be wide open.
The Warriors made some noise with a 7-1 regular season in 2014 but fell to Great Falls Central in a thriller of a first-round playoff game.
This year, they’ll try to get back to the postseason under first-year head coach Todd Yocum.
Yocum lost the services of all-state quarterback Riley Rogers and running back PJ Haynes, but he’ll have plenty of weapons returning as well.
All-state WR/LB Patrick BigSam (6-1, 200) will move under center for his senior season, and we’ll have all-conference receivers in Harold Yocum (6-0, 150) and Tyler Tanner (6-0, 170).
Bradley Brazill (6-2, 220) is the reigning Western C defensive MVP at D-end, and he’s joined up front by Alex Bertollt (5-10, 185). Bertollt will be an option carrying the pigskin as well.
Injuries marred the Vikings’ state title hopes a season ago, but coach Mike Krahn’s team is pretty well reloaded.
Senior QB/DB Michael Delaney (6-0, 175) returns after his 2014 campaign ended early due to injury, and all-state RB/LB Jade Smith (6-0, 205) is ready to roll after offseason back surgery. Smith is one of six Vikings returning from offseason surgery.
Those two, along with junior RB/DB Trent Dennison (5-10, 160), make for a deadly fast trio of Viking ball-carriers.
Seniors Bridger Smith (5-10, 170) and Greg Montgomery (6-4, 195) will man the line as Charlo aims for another playoff appearance.
The Tigers lose the Western C MVP in Joe Caicedo to graduation and Montana Western’s program, but the rest of their core is back.
Leading the way is leading tackler Justin Horvath (5-9, 176) at running back/safety. Three linemen—Cory Valenzano (6-0, 210), Gabe Hansen (5-6, 180) and Andy Smith (5-11, 160) — earned all-conference nods last year for the Tigers, who went 5-3 but missed the postseason because of the tiebreak system.
The Philipsburg-Drummond power co-op graduated a ton of talent, but coach Jim Oberweiser always seems to find a way.
Returning starters Brad Holland (5-10, 160) and Cade Estes (6-0, 175) reclaim spots at linebacker, and they’ll tote the football on offense as well. Junior lineman Johnny Reynolds (5-7, 160) also returns.
Sophomore Mark Estes (6-0, 165) will take over at quarterback, and newcomers Andrew Picton (5-9, 180) and Andrew Gomez (5-10, 165) come back to the line.
Another sophomore RB/LB, Gabe Byrne (5-9, 150), gives depth at those spots.
The Red Devils don’t feature much depth with just 13 players, but first-year head coach Bart Haslich hopes to turn the struggling program around.
Junior TE/DE Quincy Grupenhoff (6-6, 190) and FB/LB Chance Sawyer (5-8, 195) would be at the center of any about-face, aided by QB/DB Cody Cable (5-10, 145), who is just a sophomore.
Senior RB Jacob Mitchell (5-7, 150) and OL/DL Austin Nessel (6-2, 225) should also contribute.
Batt Lulack’s Horsemen drop into the 8-man ranks after having to forfeit some Class B contests because of numbers a season ago. Lulack’s numbers are up in 2015 with 23 players out, and the coach hopes they can be competitive.
Ryan Ovitt (6-0, 165) returns as the starting QB for his junior year, and he’ll have the speedy receiver Trent Brouillette (5-10, 170) on the outside.
The elusive Aren Von Heeder (5-10, 155) will be a back/receiver combo, and junior Josh Conolly (6-3, 290) gives good size up front.
The Blackhawks have a large senior football class with 11 boys, bringing high hopes to 2015.
All-conference performers Joshua Cahoon (5-11, 170, SR/DB), Hunter Mincey (5-8, 140, TE/DB) and Seth Linford (6-4, 220, TE/DE) headline that list.
Junior quarterback Shane Lindemar (5-10, 165) takes over under center, and he’ll hand it off to RB/LB Jacob Haley (5-8, 150), who returns after missing 2014 because of injury.
Coach Wayne Cahoon’s wild card may be senior lineman Jordan Blodgett (6-1, 260), who moved to the area from Nebraska in the offseason. Cahoon also expects senior TE/DE Matt Teague (6-0, 190) to contribute.
Longtime assistant Jeff Schultz takes over the head coaching job for Allan Labbe, who led the Bobcats to a state title in the fall of 2012.
Injuries plagued Superior last season, and they could be a problem again this year without much depth.
Schultz has four seniors, all of whom will contribute: Bridger LaPierre (LB/RB, 5-7, 165), Aaron Kelly (DE/QB, 6-2, 185), Asa Ovitt (C/DT, 5-11, 265) and Kadence Hennick (WR/S, 5-9, 160).
Junior lineman Howard Nelson (6-1, 255) helps give Superior one of the biggest lines in the Western C.
Brandon Howell’s Pirates hope to return to the postseason in 2015 behind all-conference QB/DB Jesse Pearson (5-8, 175) and the versatile Colt Neville (6-0, 185).
The Pirates don’t have much depth or size, but will hope to make use of an athletic group of linemen and good speed at the skill spots, especially in the receiving corps.
Western C 8-man
1 (tie). Charlo
1 (tie). Flint Creek