Saturday, September 19, 2020

The Pack wants back in the hunt

Daily Inter Lake | September 10, 2020 10:08 PM

The Glacier Wolfpack football team went 5-6 in 2019, then saw two seniors land scholarships to play at the University of Montana.

The post-Drew Deck Era could still be rewarding for the receiving crew however; and the defensive line doesn’t plan to slow down even though Hank Nuce has moved on.

“The statement on those guys is they were both so dominant, they could do it individually a lot of times,” Glacier coach Grady Bennett said. “To replace those guys you’ve got to do it by committee – it’ll have to be a group effort. And sometimes it’s better that way.”

The Wolfpack opens its delayed 2020 season at Legends Stadium Friday against Helena Capital. Kickoff is 7 p.m. Bennett sees the potential for improvement from his program, which fought for State AA titles in 2013 and 2016.

It helps that he returns his starting quarterback, senior JT Allen, from 2019, along with 1,000-yard rusher Jake Rendina, a junior. Allen does have targets, and we’re not just talking about tight ends Luke Bilau, Ethan Diede and George Herne.

The receiving grew is led by junior Connor Sullivan - “a really good route runner” - and seniors Mason Naomi, Cole Johnson and Kale Mayhue. Then there are Jake Turner, a junior, and senior Casey Peiffer in the slot. Peiffer, a starter in the secondary, could also see time in the backfield. Devon Wallack is another speedy senior that could play all over the field on offense.

“I really like our group,” Bennett said. “It’s been one of the hardest-working bunch – in the offseason they worked so hard and got so much better.”

There is talent up front as well: Rocco Beccari started both ways last year, and he and Riley Roberts (five starts in 2019) are the tackles. Four players are vying for the middle three spots: Seniors Bryce Almaraz, Beau Shulenbuger, Tanner Norenberg and Ryan McMahon.

The same names populate the defensive line, where Nuce was a force.

The linebacker group could be a strength. Herne, forced into defensive line duties last fall, is back alongside Ben Stotts, AJ Wood, Wyatt Thomason and, at times, Rendina.

“All four of those kids can really play,” Bennett, who also is excited about having kicker Patrick Rohrbach – the first freshman to letter in football at Glacier – as a weapon.

Similarly to the linemen, the receivers like Sullivan and Johnson and Mayhue will fortify the secondary.

“With numbers slowly maybe decreasing, more and more guys just have to play both ways,” Bennett said. “To create depth we have to have everybody learn both. But you hope as you start playing that some younger guys emerge.”

The rub is that Class AA canceled its first two games, which matched up the West teams against the East. Gone is that time you could iron out some wrinkles. Now the Pack and everyone have to hit the ground running.

“All of a sudden you are thrown into the fire, and against Helena Capital,” Bennett said. “Which we all know is one of the best programs in the state, year-in and year-out.”

The Bruins have 230-pound defensive end Tyler Little, and a lot of new faces among a skill group a little on the small scale: quarterback Matt Burton is 145 pounds.

The Pack need to be ready.

“Sense of urgency,” Bennett said. “We have to be ready to start from snap one. We can ‘t wait around.”