The West West team prepares for the 75th Annual Shrine Game | high school football
MOUND — The winner of Saturday’s 75th Annual Shrine Game could be the team that can do the most with the least.
Not in terms of players, talent or effort. But time.
The West team arrived in Butte on Sunday and took to the pitch at Naranche Stadium – home of the Butte Bulldogs – that evening for the first practice of the week.
After three more practices on Monday, that leaves the West with eight more sessions before taking off for Providence on Friday, a day of travel and pre-game events.
Maybe three days a day doesn’t seem so grueling when an ice cream party awaits you after photos and a Friday night banquet.
That’s a lot of training in a single week, but it’s necessary to level up the team so that at game time it looks more like an all-star team and less like a collection of all-star players .
The West is led by Hamilton head coach Bryce Carver, who said the first half of the week was meant to upload heaps of player information, and the second half of the week was meant to refine and refine.
“When you go three days, you try to do a lot in one day,” Carver said. “We’re trying to get everything in place early so we can really clean things up and make sure we’re performing like we’re supposed to by Friday.”
The defense has the advantage early in the game. The lack of experience and comfort between teammates is more significant for the attacking side of the ball, where fouls are amplified. A defensive error can get lost in the chaos of a game, but a poorly timed throw or blown blocking assignment can bring a drive to a quick end.
Butte High safety and Montana Tech signing Cole Stewart put it simply.
“For the most part the defense is the same,” Stewart said after Monday’s second of three practices. “I mean, you just have to go tackle football.”
Stewart said it takes a few repetitions to get used to the new terminology, but players on the defensive side of the ball can rely on aggression and athleticism, at least more than their attacking counterparts.
“You’re not going to do like new formations or new routes or anything like that,” Stewart said. “The coaches give us a few set plays, but after that we’re all let loose.”
This is Carver’s third year on West’s coaching staff. He was also a coach in 2018 and 2019.
“It’s a pleasure to be here, it’s an honor,” Carver said. “I think we have a great staff and a great group of kids, so it’s going to be fun.”
In his experience, the defense starts quickly and the attack takes a little time to find its place.
“It’s kind of the theme…the defense always looks really good at the start of the week because they have guys in the line that can play,” Carver said. “The attack always tries to learn everything, all the techniques and all the games.”
The learning curve doesn’t stop Carver from installing a fast-spreading offense, the same one that led his Broncs to a perfect 11-0 record and the 2021 State A title.
“When you have kids of that caliber in this game, kids can run and catch and our quarterbacks can throw,” Carver said. “When you bring kids, some of the best in Montana, it doesn’t take much to get the guys to jump in and get moving.”
It doesn’t hurt that Hamilton quarterback Tyson Rostad, who rushed for 228 yards and three touchdowns in a 21-7 championship win over Laurel, will also take snaps for the West. Rostad finished his senior season with 27 passing touchdowns and 18 rushing scores.
“It’s quite special. I thought it would be the last time he coached,” Rostad said. “Me and him are pretty close.”
Rostad will share his reps with Helena Bengals QB Kaden Huot, who is learning a system Rostad has already mastered.
“We put in a lot of Hamilton stuff and I think most kids like it,” Rostad said. “It makes things a little easier, I’m able to help other people and try to make them understand more just because I’ve been here for four years.”
Huot said he just wanted to get as many reps as possible to learn the offense and connect with the receiving corps.
“It’s quite stressful to hear about a new attack, but they were there to answer all my questions about it,” Huot said.
Huot is Helena’s all-time leader in offensive yards (6,977) and touchdowns (61).
It’s the first time the West quarterbacks have been teammates, but it won’t be the last. Both are signed to play football at the University of Montana. Huot will continue as QB for the Grizzlies while Rostad will play defense.
“We have a lot of fun together in our practices and individually,” said Huot. “We’re also having fun with Coach Carver.”
Carver said early feedback is positive for the West, which is scheduled to practice three times on Tuesday, twice on Wednesday and another three times on Thursday.
“The guys came out with a lot of energy,” Carver said. “They’re flying and having fun. Overall, I’m happy with what the kids are doing. They’re learning well and fitting in well with the whole team.
“I think our defense is looking really good right now and I think they’ll be ready to roll on Saturday. Our offense is going to continue to learn and grow.”
East leads the Shrine Game series 41-33. The West won the 2021 Shrine Game 21-12 to end the East’s three-game, four-year winning streak. The West lost in 2017, 2018 and 2019, and the game was not played in 2020 due to COVID.
Dylan Snyder, a defensive end for Butte and soon-to-be Montana State Bobcat, said he thinks the West will be ready for whatever the East has in store for them.
“I just know we’re super strong on defense right now,” Snyder said. “So I think we could take care of them.”
Stewart said much of his work toward a win will take place outside of team practices.
“I’m looking to get together more as a team, meet more of my teammates and get to know them better,” Stewart said. “And go win the game on Saturday.”