Tony Arntson has been through enough of these games before.
And he’s learned from each one.
When Arntson and his staff of all-star coaches lead the West Team onto the field at Rocky Mountain College for Saturday night’s Montana East-West Shrine Game, they will do so with the hopes that they’ve done all they could to help their players prepare for the game.
Parts of the preparation process are easier than others but nothing is more important than having everyone on the same page. That means spot-on communication.
The players picked to be a part of this game – from both teams – have already proven themselves on the football field. Ten teams in five divisions played for state championships this past fall. Players from eight of those teams will be on the West team’s sideline.
But that doesn’t guarantee automatic success in the Shrine Game.
The one week of practice is spent with players trying to get to know each other while matching faces to names they had only read or heard about.
“We’re communicating a lot better now, at the end of the week, than we were at the beginning,” Butte Central cornerback Sam Johnston said. “No one knew anyone so we were kind of timid to say stuff. Now everyone has gotten to know each other so we’re all talking and communicating. The communication is great.”
Kane Lawson, who led Hot Springs to the Class C 6-man state championship, suddenly found himself lining up alongside new teammates from the Class AA division. While the style of play differs from Class AA to 6-man, the game of football remains virtually the same.
By the end of the week, Lawson, who will be playing at Montana Western, was running the ball just as strongly as he did during the regular season.
“When you tell a kid here what to do, they can physically do it,” Arntson explained. “You can do a lot of different things but the teaching time is a little bit less.”
West players arrived in their dormitory on the Montana Tech campus last Sunday and wasted little time in getting to know each other. After all, they were all in Butte for the same two causes.
One was to beat the East.
“It’s all about the kids,” Polson wide receiver Matthew Rensvold said. “It’s all about the kids in the hospitals but we also want to go out there and beat the East. We’re out here to compete too but we’re for sure playing for the kids at the hospital. That’s the main goal.”
Preparing a team of all-stars isn’t as hard as it might seem. The X’s and O’s are vitally important but not as much as the communication factor.
“I think the biggest thing is breaking the terminology barriers,” Arntson said. “Most of these kids all do the same things. They run the same stuff with some sort of variance of it but it’s breaking the terminology. Everyone calls it something different. Once you break that terminology barrier, you really see things start to fall into place. A kid goes, ‘Oh yeah. I did that last year. We called it Bob, you call it Jim.’
“Once you break that, it’s really good.”
Whether Arntson and his coaching staff call their plays Jim or Bob, everyone should have a good understanding of what is expected of them.
“My philosophy is, when I’ve coached these games, is to come in and not really try to change the technique that they’ve been taught through all the years,” Arntson added. “We just want to focus on the game plan. There are some kids who have never played the coverage that we’re going to show this week so I’m trying to show some basic technique with them so that they can give themselves the best possible advantage, and make sure that they understand what their responsibilities are. At this point in time, it doesn’t do much good to try and change all of the things. There are different philosophies and you don’t want to confuse the kids with that.”
There’s nothing confusing about winning, and the West Team seems to have everything in place to make that happen.