A lot has changed since Jason Petrino started leading the Rocky Mountain College football team a year ago. The new coaching staff and a strong recruiting class has brought a lot to the table for the program. The renovation of Herb Klindt field over the summer has also brought a breath of fresh air to both the program and the College as a whole.
The 2016 season under Petrino started strong, but ended poorly due to injuries of key players, including starting quarterback Chase White. With that season behind, Petrino and the Battlin’ Bears will now have a better feel for the tough Frontier Conference.
The football team held its first full contact scrimmage on April 1st. Many new playmakers got their chance to compete, and prepare for the annual spring football game, which will be held on Friday, April 21st.
After the first scrimmage, Sophomomore running back Sam Sparks said, “I think we have picked up more as a team. We have more play makers this year compared to last year. The offense as a whole is communicating better than last year. We are definitely further ahead than we were last year at this time.”
The Rocky Football team looks to advance from a 4-7 finish in the 2016 season. There are some important positions to fill in the depth chart. Along with White, the Battlin’ Bears also lost running back Kodee Varner, linebacker Cole Jelenick, and a solid defensive front including Brendan Johnson, Austin Chamberlain, and Seth Swandal.
“We are going to have to have some guys step up, especially on the defensive line,” said redshirt freshman linebacker Max Melfi. “We are young but we have a lot of talent. We have guys like JJ Taele, Chase Bertleson, Billy Williams, Ryder Rice and Keenan Fagan leading us on the defense.”
The strong recruiting class brought in by Petrino and his staff will hopefully help to fill some of these gaps. Transfer players Kendell Jefferson and Kirk Durtche will add strength in the secondary.
The quarterback battle this spring is between juniors Jacob Bakken, Brady Pickering, and redshirt freshman Gage Seekins. Out of the three quarterbacks, Bakken is currently the only one who has had much playing time. Bakken started four games last season, and completed 76 of 146 pass attempts for 657 yards and one passing touchdown. Bakken also rushed for 264 yards and two touchdowns.
The Battlin’ Bears held their second scrimmage on Saturday, April 8. Afterwards, Head Coach Jason Petrino commented on the current progress of the team: “We ran the ball a lot better, the offensive line understands their blocking schemes and the running backs understand their paths. Offensively we hit some big plays in the pass and run games. Showing explosiveness on both sides of the ball is big for us. Defensively we tackled pretty well, but we still have a long way to go.”
The team made progress toward filling in the shoes of the seniors who graduated last fall. Some of the players that Petrino is looking to fill in for the graduates include freshman Denton Wetherell on the defensive line, freshman Josh Kraft at wide receiver, sophomore Zane Guse and junior Brandon Mosley at tight end.
“At quarterback, Jacob Bakken stepped in (last year) when Chase White went down,” said Petrino. “He is getting most of the reps with the first team right now. He does need to continue to improve on consistency with passing to second level routes, and in his leadership. But, he has made good headway this spring.”
The team looks to improve on the consistency of their play going into the fall season. “There were times last season when we played well across the board,” Petrino commented. “When we had injuries happen we lost all consistencies in terms of understanding schematics. We need to trust our fits and finish plays.”
The players and coaches have continued to come together as a team and improve over the past year. The future of the program seems bright.