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New football staff ready for challenges, season to start tonight in Salmon, ID

Although any number of factors could’ve derailed this day from happening, and potentially still could, first year head coach Riley Schell and the Anaconda Copperheads will travel across state lines for what’s become an annual season-opening rivalry against Salmon, ID tonight at 7 p.m.

One would be hard pressed to find a more passionate and thankful man to lead their football team, but that’s what Anaconda has found in Schell. A former Carroll College lineman, Schell cut his teeth in the prep scene by being a part of back-to-back State Championship teams for Flint Creek followed by his addition to the Copperhead staff in 2018.

AHS head coach Riley Schell alongside new defensive coordinator Joey Joyce. COPPERHEAD COUNTRY/Blake Hempstead

Schell, one of the most gentle giants you’ll ever meet, has spread the values of family to his players and the community. And, if you haven’t noticed, everyone has bought in.

In the offseason, members of this football team raised $30,000 doing odd jobs, mowing lawns, cleaning the duck pond … you name it. They did it all for better equipment and to increase the pride our athletes take in the community.

“All the work they put in to fundraise during the offseason is for this opportunity to play football,” Schell said. “They were right there, side by side with the coaches, volunteering their own time for the team. Twenty-five players or more at every event. We raised $30,000 this summer to pay for equipment improvements like the blocking sled. They went out in the community and did the work themselves. It’s going to eventually pay off.”

Sophomore defensive back Tommy Sawyer brings down sophomore Christian Miller during the annual Blue Silver game last week. COPPERHEAD COUNTRY/Blake Hempstead

This community ate up the idea of these kids earning money for the program with manual labor unlike what’s become the norm with sports boards. It’s built camaraderie with the team and the town is now pulling for the kids like never before.

“This is the closest team I’ve ever been a part of – college or high school,” Schell said. “We mixed kids up, not the buddies they usually hang around with, and riding around town in cars, mowing lawns for five hours a day, they learned a lot about one another. It’s amazing to see how close they have become.”

Schell isn’t reinventing the wheel with his motivations, he’s only perfecting a system that wasn’t quite on par to his liking. All the way down to choosing his staff after being hired, Schell left no stone unturned when getting this team just how he envisioned.

First, Schell reached out to newly hired math teacher Joe Joyce, a Butte Central alum, then added former Copperheads Eric Boyd and Kayne Cobban as paid assistants. Next, he rewarded the hard work of Travis Malga, the driving force of Stack Elite, an offseason training group that was integral in helping many of the football fundraising efforts, and former Copperhead player and coach Pat Gallagher as volunteer assistants. Schell is ecstatic about his staff.

“We have a very unique coaching staff,” Schell alluded. “Last year, all of the coaches were in the school district, this year only myself and Coach Joyce are part of the school staff. When I went out and recruited coaches, I was given full reign on hiring the guys I though would be the best fit for the program. I thank Allen Green and the administration for allowing me to do that.”

Joyce will be the defensive coordinator and work with defensive backs. Boyd, a 2013 AHS grad and one of the best dual-threat QBs Anaconda High has ever had, will work with quarterbacks and wide receivers. Cobban, a Shrine Game alternate at defensive end for the Copperheads, will work with the offensive and defensive lines with Malga, and Gallagher, a former defensive coordinator, will serve in various roles to help every part of the team.

Ultimately, it’s come down to being not only thankful for the opportunity to work in Anaconda, but also that it’s his time now to lead this football program. If you know or have talked to the new football coach, you’ll see a man who kids of all ages adore, especially the young, impressionable elementary school children he educates, and someone who always has something welcoming to say.

“This is my community, I love it here and I’m not going anywhere,” Schell said. “I was sold on Anaconda the day I got here. I just love the way families have supported me, I have great friends here, I love my colleagues and school district … I’m just happy to be here. Some guys come in here and move on, and that’s fine, but that’s not me. There’s no better place to be in my opinion. I’m a Copperhead.”

THANKFUL

During the nationwide COVID-19 pandemic, many states have either elected to not play or have moved football and other sports to the spring. In Montana, communities haven’t been hit as hard as the more populated ones. Therefor, after much discussion and debate, the Montana High School Association, under guidance from the governors office, has left the option up to local heath departments.

Knowing it could all end tomorrow, Schell isn’t taking anything for granted.

“There’s a lot of colleges that aren’t playing, especially in our area, even the AA is having a lot of problems,” Schell said. “We’re just grateful in our state, small school football is going strong. Our health department and administration has really entrusted the coaches to take care of our athletes first. We take that very seriously. The big thing here is we appreciate every second we get together.”

In one of the biggest senior classes in recent memory, Schell is excited to get rolling.

“I’ve been waiting a long time to get these kids,” Schell said of his 11 seniors. “It’s my third year with this group, and I love these guys. I tell them all the time I’ve spent more time with this group than I have my own family, my own brother. We are very close.”

In speaking with the players, Schell realized just how much has been put on their plates since they’ve been in the program.

“This is the third offense they’ve learned in four years,” Schell said. “That’s a lot to take in. I’ve worked really hard trying to tailor an offense that fits our skill sets. Every day during our COVID school shutdown, after I held my Zoom lessons with the kids and meeting with families, I spent every day researching different offenses.”

Senior running back and linebacker Pat Galle, coming off a season-ending injury midway through last season, is poised to have a big season on both sides of the ball. COPPERHEAD COUNTRY/Blake Hempstead

Senior quarterback Braedon Sawyer (6-foot-3, 195-pounds) and running back and linebacker Pat Galle (5-10, 175) will serve as offensive and defensive captains, a new rule enacted this year due to the restrictions.

“Braedon worked his butt off this offseason,” Schell said. “He was at every offseason lifting session, every fundraising event, even looking at the kids HUDL accounts he watches the most film by far. He’s a great senior leader.
“Pat was one of the big injuries we had last year, but we had a bunch of other injuries that took away some potential all-conference, all-state looks,” Schell added. “It’s tough to get those honors with 1 or no wins. That recognition comes with wins.”

An offensive lineman at heart, it’s no wonder the front lines on both sides of the ball are what coach Schell is excited about coming into 2020.

Senior quarterback Braedon Sawyer enters the season and the starter after playing the position in every game last year. COPPERHEAD COUNTRY/Blake Hempstead

“I was very happy with the line we have this year,” Schell praised. “It’s the best one I’ve had since coming here three years ago. Three of the starters we have weren’t on the team last year. We went out and recruited these kids to come be a part of something. We have great size in this community, we just need to get them out here with us. I’m so excited to see how they play together.

Of the 11 seniors, potentially five won’t suit up or make the trip. Schell is disappointed they won’t be able to contribute after all the hard work they’ve put in, but is excited for other kids to step in and show what they have learned.

“We are missing 5-6 varsity players that are hurt, have guys that have opted out because of the risk of COVID — all things out of our control,” said Schell, also admitting he holds nothing against those whose chose to sit out for health reasons. “We are focused on the things we can control.”

For the players who are healthy and cleared to participate, Schell is ready to see all of their hard work payoff under the lights.

“This is their time,” he said. “we could have opted out the last two seasons, we could have went over to Butte Central, we could have went to a JV schedule, theres a lot of things we as a team could have done but the kids would not allow us to do that. They’ve paid the price for this. They could’ve quit, stopped coming to practice after going 1-7, 0-8, but they grinded it out. Not everyone can go through that mentally and physically.”

Offensively, Sawyer and Galle will be in the backfield, flanked by senior Brady Mikalatos (6-2, 205), sophomores Tommy Sawyer (5-11, 160) and Nathan Blodnick (5-5, 140) and freshman Cael Mikalatos (5-11, 165) all at wideout. On the line, junior Rowdy Swainston (6-0, 240) will be at center, seniors Rian Hoiland (6-1, 265) and Jayce Coughlin (6-1, 275) at guard and seniors Andy Savoy (6-4, 260) and Sean Kellegher (5-10, 230) will play tackle.

Defensively, Anaconda will run a base 4-3 alignment with Hoiland and Swainston on the interior line and Kellegher and sophomore Jayraland Yazzi (5-10, 195) as defensive ends. Galle will play the strong side linebacker with Brady Mikalatos and senior Ryder Hoffland (6-0, 195) at middle and weak side backers, respectively. Freshman Cory Galle (5-9, 150) and sophomore cousin Gabe Galle (5-10, 160) will be at safety and corners will include Tommy Sawyer and Blodnick.

BEYOND THE GAME

If his positivity doesn’t inspire you, than let his love for the game and his players do it.

“We can wake up tomorrow and they could cancel the season,” Schell said, frankly. “This family is going to hold on as long as we can and be appreciative of whatever we get and have a great time doing it. I can’t wait to see what they are going to do this season, I just hope that we get one. Every game that we get, every practice we get to be as a team and a family together is something we are extremely grateful and thankful for because you never know if and when it could be taken away. There’s so much positivity surrounding this program around this town. It’s an awesome thing to be a part of and I can’t wait to see how it translates.”

Anaconda will look to stop a two-game losing streak to Salmon with kickoff scheduled at 7 p.m. Live coverage is available at http://copperheadcountry.airtime.pro or via the link on top of the page at copperheadcountry.org .

Full roster available here https://www.maxpreps.com/high-schools/anaconda-copperheads-(anaconda,mt)/football/roster.htm