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November 4, 2009

Big football being played in Big Sky country

Dallas Jackson is the high school sports expert for RivalsHigh.com. Send him a question or comment at DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him at twitter.com/rivalshigh.

Pat Murphy knows what you're thinking when you hear Helena, Montana.

"We certainly have our Cowboy clientele,'' he said. "But we have everything a usual middle-sized city has. We've got government workers, construction workers, engineers, teachers and our fair share of ranchers."

And one heck of a high school football team.

The Helena (Mont.) Capital High Bruins are 10-0 this season and ride a 31-game winning streak into the first round of the Montana AA playoffs this weekend.

Murphy, in his sixth season at the school, is hoping to lead his team to a fourth-straight state title. Not that many people know it. When you're in the nation's fifth-smallest media market (of the 210 Neilsen recognizes), the word doesn't always get out too quickly.

"We are under the radar," the team's star player Matt Miller said. "I am sure people overlook us and what we have done. We have good athletes up here and our team is just as good as any you can find in a lot of states."

Murphy says the kids are determined to keep it that way.

"The kids want to continue a winning tradition," he said. "The kids understand at Capital you either bring a work ethic with you, we create one for you, or you don't last."

Hard work is emphasized from the head coach through his assistants and the kids buy into it.

"Our dedication is what sets us apart," Miller said. "You look around the field in a tight game, fourth quarter, and we are ready to go. Our hard work shows."

The hard work begins almost as soon as the season ends.

Two weeks after the season ends kids are back in the weight room, are encouraged to play multiple sports - mainly track - and studying tape.

"We have to give credit to Lee (Carter) and Lon (Carter)," Murphy said. "Those guys run our weight program and it has really helped develop our players."

The weight program has been so successful that in the summer they have to run two sessions most years as they have about 120 kids coming out for 6am and 7am lifts.

It is this weight program that Murphy credits for making average athletes good and good athletes better.

"It is run by a crotchety old man that wants to see kids get better," Murphy said. "I think that helps. We want to see the kids get better on the field and off. Education is strongly emphasized as well."

The seniors on the team have a cumulative 3.2 GPA. While Miller carries a 3.7 in a very demanding academic curriculum, he says his time studying film is what makes him and the team successful.

"Physically we may not be as big," Miller said. "But I have had kids tell me after the game that it felt like we were in their huddle the whole time.

"I am film junky anyways. I watch film at lunch with the coaches and I have game tapes at home that I will just put on and study."

It's paid off for Miller, who is narrowing down his choice of nearly 20 offers from big-time Division 1 programs.

And though Miller is the school's top recruit, Murphy emphasized the state produces a lot of top athletes.

"We may not have a Division I program up here," Murphy said. "But Montana State, Montana and Carroll College have all been successful. Those teams are loaded with Montana players."

He even wants to take his show on the road.

"We run a hybrid Shotgun Wing-T style offense and a base 3-4 defense," Murphy said. "We play very good defense with lots of hitting and we have great fans.

"I have assistant coaches from Florida and California who I ask, 'Can we play with those teams?' and we think we can. We would love to go to Texas or Ohio. Bellevue (Washington) tried to get us to come but the schedules didn't line up."

Capital is convinced it can match up man-for-man.

Don't be confused. While Montana has its share of six-man football, schools in Helena - the sixth-largest city in the state - are as big as any in the country. Capital has a student enrollment of 1,369, and it's the third-smallest in its conference.

No matter the future success of the program Miller will remember two things from his time at Capital.

"Hard work will get you where you want to go," Miller said. "And always remember where you came from."

Even if no one else quite knows where that is.

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