INDIANS READY TO RUSH
The Montrose Indians have reason to be excited and optimistic about this season.
Experience and lots of it is why there’s excitement in Montrose.
It starts with a veteran coaching staff with a change at the top. Brett Mertens takes over as the head coach after spending last season as the team’s offensive coordinator.
Jim Scarry remains on the staff after stepping back into his role as assistant coach after two seasons as the head guy. He served a number of years on Todd Casebier’s staff before Casebier departed for Fruita Monument.
On the roster, there’s plenty of returning varsity experience that should have the Indians off and running from the start.
Fifteen seniors are back, led by quarterback Caleb Egbert.
“We’re a pretty tight group and I’m excited to go out and have a good season,” Egbert said.
In the past, the Indians have loved to line up and play smash-mouth football. Last season, Montrose had one of the more prolific rushing attacks in the state, averaging 309 yards a game.
Egbert said they will still rely heavily on the running game with a few new wrinkles mixed in.
“We have bits and pieces that are a little different but we are still a dominant run-first team,” Egbert said.
Even though the Indians lost their leading rusher in Riley Freeland (1,376 yard) to graduation, they have three running backs returning who accounted for more than 1,200 yards rushing.
Fullback Cade Atwood had 584 yards and 6 TDs and Egbert rushed for 354 yards and was especially good inside the red zone with 10 TDs.
Sam Collins was injured and only played in six games, but the 6-foot-3 senior still averaged nearly eight yards a carry and finished with 341 yards.
Mertens knows having experience is an invaluable ingredient, especially at QB.
“Every coach knows the value of a senior quarterback with varsity experience,” he said. “I’m excited to see what Caleb can do this year.”
The coach also wants to make sure they are balanced and keep teams from focusing exclusively on the running game.
“Being able to throw the ball down the field is always important to keep teams honest,” Mertens said. “We will be more balanced than we were last year.”
The Indians will have a multi-set offense, which will include some spread formations.
Egbert said having played last season has prepared him to be more of a leader this fall.
“It’s a lot more calm, it was nerve-wracking last year, especially he first few games,” he said. “I didn’t know exactly how to lead, so this year, I think I’m ready.”
On defense, Atwood and Michael Brent will be key at the linebacker spots.
Being on the staff last year has been a big help for Mertens.
“I got to get familiar with the community and the team,” Mertens said. “I’m super fortunate to have almost all of last year’s coaching staff still in place, so the transition was very smooth.”
Mertens is a Colorado native, graduating from Merino High School. He was on the school’s 2003 state championship team.
Mertens coached at Crean Lutheran in Irvine, California, for seven years before joining Montrose’s staff.
Montrose had an up-and-down 2016 season but finished with three straight wins against conference opponents, and narrowly missed the Class 4A playoffs.
Like every year, Montrose will take on tough Western Slope opponents before jumping into conference play. The Indians will play two 4A playoff teams and two 3A playoff teams as part of their nonconference schedule.
“Every week is a tough opponent, so it helps us not get too far ahead of ourselves and just trying to go 1-0 that week,” Mertens said. “We are excited to compete on the Western Slope and in our league.”