By Heidi Boyum
The Class B Poplar Indians football team snapped a nine year, varsity losing streak this past weekend under the coaching of Havre native Scott Hellman.
"A lot of the problem was no consistency," said Hellman. "That's what I attribute (the losing streak to) the most. The team has had five different coaches in the last five or six years."
Hellman, a graduate of Havre High School and Montana State University - Northern, and current middle school physical education teacher, began to establish a desired consistency in the Indians football program last year. According to Hellman, he was "brought in (as football coach) at the last minute" when the previous coach left for reasons unknown.
"I had to focus on rebuilding rather than starting over," said Hellman. The Indians were prepared for an offensive program different from that Hellman had planned on using, but the "coaches were familiar with this offense of many years so (Hellman) decided to adopt their (offense)." Hellman did bring his own defense to the program however.
Hellman started the year with 18 players, mostly freshmen and sophomores, and ended the season with 26. As a result of small numbers and young players, the decision was made to drop from varsity and rebuild as a junior varsity team for a season.
"We have a great bunch of kids this year. They're focused and they all enjoy the game. We should be very competitive in the conference."
In preparation for this season, Hellman instituted various summer programs for the players. "We worked with the kids all summer long," said Hellman. "I had the kids in the weight room, held passing league once a week, played flag football and had football camp in July." Not only did this give players an opportunity to improve their skills, but also "gave them something to do."
Hellman's interest and hard work began to pay off this season when 35 players turned out for practice. "That's the most players out in years," said Hellman.
The high continued as the Indians earned their first win in nine years against Lodgegrass last weekend.
"It affected our team in a lot of good ways," said Hellman. "Although these players went 5-5 last year as a JV team, (Poplar) hasn't had a win in nine years at the varsity level."
According to Hellman, playing under the lights was exciting for his team and the "kids are excited and pleased to have finally ended their losing streak."
Hellman credits much of the team's success to his coaching staff. According to Hellman, offensive coordinator Kevin Kenelty is "very knowledgeable when it comes to football." Special teams coach Brent Moore and defensive line coach Paul Furthnyre have also "brought a lot of success to the program."
The Poplar Indians will be hosting the Malta Mustangs in a homecoming game this weekend. Hellman describes Malta as a "high caliber team with lots of depth...they are able to play along with Class A schools. Our focus is not necessarily to win the game but to stay competitive."
"Don't get me wrong, I want to win, but when you look at the big picture it would be ignorant to say we're going to go out and beat Malta," said Hellman. "It comes down to the team who makes the most mistakes because the other team is going to capitalize on those mistakes."
"I'm excited about going out there, we've practiced hard this week, we're hoping to be competitive and we'll give them a challenge - it won't be a runaway."
As Hellman looks at this weekend and the rest of the season, he will rely heavily on his seniors for continued leadership.
"Our seniors are what run our games. They're our leaders and we tell them to make sure things are done to their standards. There's no question about who's in charge and the other players respect that."
According to Hellman, "the seniors have stepped up and worked very hard. They set the pace and we can always trust them to give 100 percent always."
The depth and success of the team depends on the other players as well. "We were fortunate to get everyone back." said Hellman. "It's Ironman' football out there. Kids play both ways for four quarters and when someone gets injured, we need those other players.
"When I was a freshman, I never saw a varsity game from the sideline. Our freshmen are on the sidelines; they go with us everywhere," said Hellman.
With a combination of depth, work ethic, respect and consistency, the Indians are looking to be competitive in the conference. According to Hellman, Glasgow, Wolf Point and Plentywood are all under a new coaching staff.
"They're going through the same type of transitions Poplar's been going through for the last eight years," said Hellman. "We have an edge. We run the same stuff. Things haven't changed a lot. The kids respect us."
Hellman said he doesn't have a prep period at school because players often drop in to talk with him. "When you have a coach whose been there a couple years, the kids start to trust you...they have someone they can talk to."
Poplar will host the Malta Mustangs in the Indians' homecoming game Friday, Sept. 14.