CMR Football Team kicks off 2021 campaign against Hellgate

Entering his third year as head coach of the CM Russell High football program, Dennis Morris sees a team ready to take off.

And with 15 starting spots occupied by players with extensive experience, that sentiment is hard to argue.

“We had a phenomenal summer,” Morris said. “And a lot of it takes a bit of time when the new coach (comes in) and creates a new attack and a new defense, and it took us a couple of years to get settled into where we were. We started this summer with the kids knowing what to do… In a long, long time, this has been the sharpest two-day (training) and pre-season package we’ve had.

The Rustlers kick off the 2022 Class AA football campaign Friday night at Memorial Stadium at 7 p.m., hosting Missoula Hellgate in a non-conference contest. CMR finished 5-5 last season, ending in a first-round playoff loss to Helena Capital.

Friday’s game begins after the Tribune’s print deadline. Visit greatfallstribune.com Friday night for game coverage, or check out Sunday’s edition of the Tribune.

In addition to a very experienced defensive unit, the Rustlers will be led this season by quarterback Cole Taylor, who enters his senior season as a three-year starter in Morris’ offense.

Taylor, who earned second-team All-State honors last year, was a starting catcher for the Rustlers for most of his sophomore season before taking over full-time under center in 2021. Morris has said Taylor’s year-long commitment to the program has paid off. .

“As a high school coach, you never have enough time with these kids, but Cole put in a lot of time,” Morris said. “Our quarterbacks start in January in the classroom with movies and stuff, Cole has never missed a day, he’s never missed a minute, he’s hungry, wants to learn everything… is phenomenal to have a quarterback back but also to be able with the way we do things to also develop a quarterback Cole is the perfect kid for that because he loves football and he thirsts for knowledge.

Senior Archie “AJ” Lafurge, also an All-East AA safety, will start at the tail end for CMR, while Shawn Tadlock returns to the offensive line after a second-team All-State as a sophomore.

“Because of the size of the classes we’ve had in recent years, a lot of these seniors were playing a lot, or even starting, in their second year, so they have some (college) football experience, which gives them a lot of confidence to the season,” said Morris, an RMC alumnus and former NAIA All-American at Dickinson State.

Morris said the defensive unit set the tone during preseason camp.

“Overall, setting up our offense was a little tough, and really, it’s because we’re playing our defense,” Morris said. “Our defence, they’re so much more advanced than any defense I’ve ever had.”

Joining Tadlock on the defensive line is another second-team All-State winner in senior JJ Triplett, while All-State Anthony Okes returns to linebacker in addition to his offensive center duties.

Senior Cayden Doran is back at safety after a conference season a year ago with Lafurge. Other two-way starters include receiver/linebacker Tanner Grove and wide/defensive backs River Wasson and Guz Nunez. Junior Kaiden Clement is another all-conference performer returning for the CMR defense, but will start the season on the sidelines with an injury.

Grove will also punt for the Rustlers, while Elijah Groshelle will start at kicker.

“At the start, I think the strength of our team will be the defence. I think we are going to be a very difficult team to run the ball on and you are going to have to fight us in the air. But our offense has also made great strides, especially with Cole developing so well,” Morris said. “I think, honestly, we’ll be a bit defensive in terms of strength, but I think we’ll be pretty balanced going into the season. We are excited to play (Friday) and see where we really are.

Hellgate was 2-6 last year and lost to CMR in the season opener 37-35. The Knights are led by new head coach Ryne Nelson, who enjoyed great success as a Class A Frenchtown mentor for five seasons, and second-team All-State quarterback Connor Dick.

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