The Choteau High School football team — playing in the 41-team eight-man B/C league — started practicing Aug. 16 with 24 players out and will play for the first time Aug. 31 at 1 p.m. on the road against Thompson Falls. That game will be played on the Philipsburg High School football field.

Choteau is playing in the Northern B/C division along with Belt, Cascade, Centerville, Chester-Joplin-Inverness, Chinook, Fort Benton, Great Falls Central, Hays-Lodge Pole, Rocky Boy, Shelby and Simms.

The 12-team Northern division is divided into two pools and Choteau is in Pool A along with GFCC, Belt, CJI, Rocky Boy and Cascade. Pool B includes Centerville, Fort Benton, Chinook, Simms and Shelby.

Other teams in the Class B/C eight-man league are: Eastern division — Carter County (Ekalaka), Circle, Culbertson, Fairview, Forsyth, Lame Deer, Lodge Grass, Plentywood, Powder River County, Saint Labre and Scobey/Opheim; Southern division — Absarokee, Ennis, Joliet, Lone Peak, Park City and Twin Bridges and West Yellowstone; Western division — Arlee, Charlo, Darby, Drummond/Granite, Plains, St. Ignatius, Seeley-Swan, Superior/Alberton, Thompson Falls, Troy and Victor.

Lucas Gunderson is returning as Choteau’s head coach for the fifth season and will work with the quarterbacks, defensive backs and receivers, will serve as offensive coordinator and will work with special teams on punt cover and kick-off return. First assistant coach Dan Yeager will be the defensive coordinator and work with running backs and linebackers and punt return on special teams. Second assistant Chad Peebles, new to the program, will work with the offensive line and defensive line and with kick-off cover on special teams.

Choteau’s varsity squad is senior-heavy this season with 10 players out for their final high school season: Kyler Crabtree, Bryce Gramm, Johnny Rappold, Sam Stutz, Kolby Kovatch, Brady Armstrong, Chris Fuhringer, Gage Cummings, Declan Fladstol and Keegan Thomas.

Key returning players include Rappold as quarterback and defensive end; Crabtree as running back and safety; Gramm as running back and linebacker; Sam Stutz as center and on the defensive line; Kovatch as a receiver and defensive back; sophomore Carter Morgan as a running back, tight-end and linebacker; and junior Tony Daley as a cornerback, tight-end and back-up quarterback.

Special teams players are yet to be determined but will likely include Gramm as the team’s punter and Crabtree and Kovatch as the main returners on punts and kickoffs.

Gunderson said this year’s team is not big but has good speed and a plethora of linemen who can rotate in along with multiple running backs who can also rotate in and keep fresh legs in the game. He said the team’s offense will be mainly built around a successful running game.

On defense, the team’s speed will also be a key factor. The defensive line is solid, he said, and the team has good cover guys and a fast secondary.

Gunderson said he and the assistant coaches are pleased with the effort and hustle the boys have shown since practice started. “They are a good humble group that works really hard,” he said of the players.

This year’s seniors are players whom Gunderson has coached since junior high and who know what to expect from him as he knows what to expect from them. The seniors are great leaders and the kids are looking forward to their first game on the road.

As always, Gunderson said his goal is to use the football program to instill integrity, honesty, humbleness and other traits that will make these boys into good citizens who will go onto become positive members of their communities. “Winning is secondary to that,” he said.

Choteau’s schedule includes two non-conference games — the season opener against Thompson Falls this Saturday and a home game against Simms for homecoming.

Other games scheduled are: Sept. 6 home against Rocky Boy at 7 p.m.; Sept. 13 home against CJI at 7 p.m.; Sept. 21 at GFCC at 1 p.m.; Sept. 27 home against Simms at 7 p.m.; Oct. 4 at Cascade at 7 p.m. and Oct. 11 at Belt at 7 p.m.

Gunderson said he thinks Shelby and GFCC will be the teams to beat in the Northern Division this season. The SHS Coyotes have a lot of returning players, he said, and promise to be as strong as they were last year. In 2018, the Coyotes made it all the way to the semifinals before losing, 28-20, to Drummond/Granite.

GFCC, he said, is always a tough team. Central made it all the way to the state championship last year, but then lost big, 50-14, to Drummond/Granite, this year’s defending state champ.

Last year, the Bulldogs defeated Chinook in the seeded playoffs to finish fourth in the Northern Division and advance to the state playoffs. The Bulldogs lost their opening round game against Drummond/Granite (also by a score of 50-14), ending the season with a 6-3 record (including a win by forfeit over Box Elder).

This season the Northern Division will send five (rather than four) teams to the playoffs as the Southern Division will have only three teams advancing.

At the end of the regular season in seeded playoffs, starting Oct. 18, the top team in Pool A will play the top team in Pool B for the division championship, and both will advance as the first and second seeds into the state Class B/C 16-team playoffs.

Pool A second-place team will play Pool B third-place team, and Pool B second-place team will play Pool A third-place team. The winners of those two games will advance as the division’s third and fourth seeds.

The losers of those games will play for the fifth seed.

Choteau will also field a junior varsity team this season, and the JV squad has six scheduled games, all at 4:30 p.m.: Sept. 3 home against Belt; Sept. 9 home against Cut Bank; Sept. 16 at CJI; Sept. 23 home against GFCC; Sept. 30 at Simms; and Oct. 7 home against Cascade.