Ronan High School football coach Matt Detwiler prides himself on never falling victim to complacency on and off the field.
“To a certain extent, that is something that we talked about as a coach and with the players,” Detwiler said. “I don’t like being comfortable and at this point in my life, I am not sitting around being 100 percent comfortable with everything. I try to take my job as a teacher, a coach and as a husband to what is the thing I can do to make myself better. I always want to strive to be better in all of those areas.”
Detwiler, who will enter his third season as the Chiefs’ head football coach, said he is “excited” as he and his coaching staff will attempt to qualify for the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.
As Ronan prepares for its first official day of practice at midnight Friday morning at Ronan High School, Detwiler said his team is ready to begin preparation for their second season in the Montana High School Activities Association Class A.
“I am excited about starting the first official day of practice because it marks the end of summer for the kids, the coaches and probably the parents as well, ” Detwiler said. “ There is probably always a little bit of hesitation going into the season but once you get rolling, you have to remember why you do it. Our kids remember why they end their summer two or three weeks quicker than all of their buddies and having the excitement around it is good.”
Detwiler said he has decided to do some reshuffling of his coaching staff as they prepare for their Aug. 30 season opener against Butte Central Thursday night at 8 p.m. at Butte Central High School Football Stadium.
Detwiler noted one of the bigger changes will be Chiefs’ basketball coach and last year’s assistant special teams coach Mitchell Wassum becoming the defensive coordinator this season.
“I am excited and you will probably see a lot of difference in us with our team personnel-wise,” Detwiler said. “Wassum has been in our system for three years and our coaching staff has become more open about helping each other. When I first started coaching, it was hard to take a step back and let someone else help you on offense. I am probably more accepting of advice from other coaches over the last year and that has allowed our coaching staff to work better together as a unit.”
During the fourth quarter of the 2016 season, the Montana High School Activities Association did a massive reclassification, affecting and changing classifications for multiple teams across the state based on enrollment numbers. Ronan was moved from Class B to Class A for the 2017 football season.
The Chiefs’ season-finale loss to Browning forced Ronan to miss qualifying for the playoffs, and Columbia Falls, a MHSA Class A Northwest team, eventually captured the Class A championship title.
Detwiler, who played for the Chiefs during their first stint in MHSA Class A, said he “welcomed” the return to Class A for more reasons than Ronan-Polson renewing their rivalry.
“Last season was fun to get familiar with the Northwest A conference,” Detwiler said. “All of the coaches help each other in our conference. I am sure there are some things they leave out on accident but we all talk to each other. It is a fun group of guys to be around and it is nice to see some of the coaches you haven’t seen for nine months at the coaching clinics.”
The level of summer participants has fluctuated for the Chiefs, Detwiler said.
“Our participation was pretty strong with between 10-20 kids in the weight room and it was the same as we always take a break on the Fourth Of July,” Detwiler said. “During that month people are traveling and there are always a lot of plans for that week. Sometimes it is hard to get kids in the weight room after that and during mid-July. The fall kind of sneaks up on you because kids take family vacations and I want the kids to have those memories outside of school. There is a lot of experience outside the weight room that kids get that is invaluable.”
This summer Ronan hosted their 8th annual 7-on-7, full contact and full pad football camp that included some heavy hitters from Class B, such as Thompson Falls, back-to-back Class B champions Eureka, and their conference rival Libby.
The Libby Loggers had a total of 37 participants during the two-day camp.
“The camp really gives you a good measurement of where you are during mid-June and it is really an eye-opener,” Detwiler said. “You get to see what you need to change on offense and defense. It gives us a chance as coaches to adjust and find out what is going to work and what isn’t going to work. We had a decent camp and we had a good idea where our team was at with their physicality and tackling. Our kids that showed up to the camp got their money’s worth without subs and our kids that came out played a ton of football in two days.”
Last year, the Chiefs faced a potential catastrophe when their starting QB Brendon Blood was hurt in their season-opening loss to the Butte Central Maroons.
Sophomore quarterback Eric Dolence, who is his brother, replaced Blood. Dolence kept his Chiefs in contention and fell one victory short of qualifying for the MHSA Class A playoffs in 2017.
Dolence’s performance has him the preseason favorite to win the starting job, according to Detwiler.
“That was rough on our team for that injury to happen right off the bat,” Detwiler said. “That was our third drive in the opening game of the season. You could just kind of feel the despair because Brendon is an amazing athlete and we built our whole offense around his abilities. It was tough on his brother (Eric) to see him put in the ambulance. That was a moment where he had to wipe off his tears, step into those shoes and grow up a year faster. He did an awesome job and it was blessing in disguise. He has an entire year of varsity experience under his belt.”
This season the Chiefs are operating under a new motto: “Effort Is A Choice,” which operates under the premise that the amount of prep work they devote to football directly correlates with the team’s success.
“I can teach footwork, eyes and ball-handling skills,” Detwiler said. “How much effort our players put out, I can’t change that. As a parent, player effort is how much work you want to put in. Whatever you want out of it, you will get what you are willing to put into it. There is nothing promised as to where we are going to come out this season. I am just excited for the season to get going and I don’t have to think about the start of the season. I can finally get after it and get going.”