George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor email@example.com
While most of the college football world is making final preparations for their first game, and will be playing on Saturday, the Montana State University- Northern Lights will be resting a little, as well as getting ready to make their final preparations for their season- opener, which is still a week away. The college football season kicks off tonight, and a full slate of games are scheduled for this weekend. But the Lights don't play their seasonopener until Sept. 6 at Rocky Mountain College, and on Wednesday, MSUN wrapped up two-a-day practices and held its final official scrimmage of fall camp. "We've been going at it pretty hard the last two weeks," fifth-year MSU-N head coach Mark Samson said. "We've practiced in a lot of heat and rain and wind and we've done quite a bit of hitting this fall. So the guys are a little worn down and a little tired and we're going to tail it back a little at this point." Northern has over 90 players in camp this fall, and the Lights, who went 6-5 and tied for third in the Frontier last season, technically return seven starters on defense and seven on offense, although personnel have been moved to different positions throughout the fall. But as for how things have went so far, Samson couldn't be more pleased. "Overall, I'm really happy with how things have gone," he said. "The kids have worked really hard and I was really happy with the way they came into camp. They came in in really good shape, and for the most part, we've done a lot of good things on offense and defense. We're also finding that we have some good depth throughout the team." One of the areas of concern a year ago for MSU-N was the quarterback position, where the Lights went with true freshman Garren Hammons most of the way after starter Jeff Van Nest went down with an injury early in the season. But things have changed a little as Van Nest is healthy and competing for the starting position with freshman transfer Nick Petrino, while Hammons has been moved to wide receiver. As of Tuesday, a clear-cut starter had yet to emerge, but after scrimmaging on Wednesday evening, Samson was hoping he'd have a better idea of who his No. 1 QB would be. "Jeff and Nick are pretty much dead even in everything they have done," Samson said. "They have gotten an equal amount of reps all fall, and at times they have both played well and at other times they both are going to need to play better. But right now they are pretty much dead even and it's been a close battle." So whoever wins the starting job, it does mean the Lights have depth at the quarterback position, as they do in several areas. Samson said the only other main position battle has come at outside linebacker where four players have emerged for two starting spots. MSU-N has also worked out its kicking situation. Samson said that for now, Luke McKinley, who kicked last season, will handle the kickoffs and longer field goals and Kyle Kercher will handle the PATs and the shorter field goals. The No. 1 punter is starting defensive lineman Will Andrews but former Havre High School standout Kyle Finneman should see time punting as well. In most other areas, MSU-N has established its two-deep roster already, and Samson said that he likes how his team is taking shape. "In most areas things are pretty set," he said. "The guys have worked really hard and we're where we need to be at almost every position. So for the most part, things have worked its way out that way. "I really like a lot of what we've done both offensively and defensively, we have a lot of kids playing really well right now and they came into camp in shape, improved and ready to go. We still have a little work to do on special teams, but for the most part , I'm very pleased with what has occurred so far this fall." Northern will practice today and Friday, before having an off day on Saturday. Then the Lights won't get back to work until Sunday evening with a light workout, before getting into heavy preparations for RMC on Monday. "Their legs a little tired right now and a little rest will be good," Samson said. "But what I like is that we have been tired for a few days now but those practices have still beeen really crisp. So we are staying very sharp, and we're looking forward to getting ready for Rocky." The Lights and RMC will kick off at 1 p.m. on Sept. 6 in Billings. The Lights play at home for the first time on Sept. 13 against Eastern Oregon University. Quick hits: MSU-N has seven players from Havre High School on its roster this season, including veterans Ted Wells (DB) and Coda Tchida (WR). The Lights are not playing a nonconference game this season for the first time in seven years. MSU-N was picked to finish third in the Frontier Conference this season. See Friday's Havre Daily News Sports Section for a full preview of the Frontier Conference.