MISSOULA — Montana kicker Brandon Purdy never lost a high school football game at Legends Stadium in Kalispell.
The Glacier grad technically can’t lose when the Griz play their spring game there at 1 p.m. Saturday, but he surely can continue to help his case toward recapturing the starting job as Montana’s kicker for field goals and extra points. And he’ll have the opportunity to do it in front of family and possibly friends.
“I’ve got a lot of family in Kalispell on both sides. Really kind of spread through the Flathead Valley,” Purdy said. “So, it’ll be nice to see them. I’m excited.”
When the Griz spring game was last in Kalispell in 2006, Purdy had never played football. An avid soccer player, he tried out for football in sixth grade at Kalispell Middle School but suffered what he was told was a concussion.
“I lasted probably two practices and wanted to continue to play soccer,” Purdy recalled. “I think that was my sign of saying, ‘Hey, not yet.’”
The 5-foot-10, 176-pound Purdy continued playing soccer until the summer between his sophomore and junior years of high school, when he heard the football team was looking for a kicker. He was soon suiting up in shoulder pads after he got permission from the school to play both soccer and football in the fall.
Purdy’s special teams play helped Glacier finish second in the state in 2013 and win the championship in 2014 under head coach Grady Bennett, a former Montana quarterback. In just two years, Purdy set and still owns state records for single-season extra points (71) and career extra points (128). His 13 career field goals are tied for fourth most in the state, and his 48-yarder is the longest in school history.
“It was just a really fun two years because we had such a dominant program,” Purdy said. “Grady (Bennett) brought a lot of guys together, which was really nice.”
One of Purdy’s more vivid memories came in the playoffs when Glacier lined up for an onside kick.
“We were practicing an onside kick where I would bunt it and I would fall on it,” Purdy said. “We worked on a couple of them. We got in the huddle after we were up by a couple possessions, and (Bennett) said, ‘Purdy, decide what we’re going to do.’ I said, ‘I want to bunt it to myself.’ He looks at everyone, and he’s like, ‘No, we’ll go left.’ So we ended up onsiding left, and Cain Boschee … one of my good friends from childhood recovered that, so that was fun.”
After walking on at Montana, Purdy was the backup kicker in 2016 and earned the starting spot kicking field goals and extra points in 2017 under former coach Bob Stitt. He picked up All-Big Sky third-team honors, and his 88.2 conversion percentage on field goals (15 of 17) ranked third in the FCS.
When Bobby Hauck took over for Stitt, Purdy ended up missing spring ball in 2018 because of an injury. Tim Semenza went on to earn the starting job, and Purdy didn’t play that season.
This spring, Purdy and Gabe Peppenger, a Sentinel grad and Montana State transfer, have been competing to handle field goals and extra points. Semenza, the second-most accurate kicker in Griz history, is forgoing his senior season to take a job with a software and consulting company.
In the fall, true freshmen Brian Buschini, from Helena Capital, and Carver Gilman, from Whitefish, will join the team to potentially add more competition.
“The way things are set up here, every kick counts,” Purdy said. “They’re tracking it. We’re looking at our operation times every day. We get our percentages sent to us every day.
“We’re focused on our craft, which is really nice because previous times when I played on this team, we didn’t really focus on that too much. Now, it’s been really nice having a lot of people on this staff that really care about what we’re doing.”
When Purdy returns to Legends Stadium, he’ll be wearing a different jersey than last time. And there’s also one other change that’ll be a bonus.
“It’s a little different now because they have turf,” Purdy said. “It was more of a skating rink before in November. The turf’s going to be nice. It’ll be fun to step on that field again.”
One of Hauck’s go-to sayings the past month has been that the goal of spring practice is to improve. Another saying is that live reps are the only way to get better.
The Griz will get one more go-around when they close their slate of 15 practices on Saturday.
“Well, as young as we are, the chance to play live is always good,” Hauck said. “I’ll say it one more time: the only way to get better is to play. And so, primarily for our young players, it’ll be really productive. For some of the veteran guys, we’d like to see them get out of it healthy. But again, most of our team’s not fitting into that category, so getting a chance to go play live another time is good.”
In addition to Purdy, the other Glacier grads making their returns to Kalispell are sophomore linebacker Patrick O’Connell and four redshirt freshmen in safety Jackson Pepe, running back Drew Turner, offensive tackle Cody Hartsoch and tight end Max Morris.
The road trip offers the team a practical benefit beyond some players playing in front of family.
“It’s a chance for us to practice playing on the road,” Hauck said. “And then when you get to do it in a place like Kalispell, which a lot of us consider a second home, we have a lot of Griz fans up in that area, a lot of them, thousands of them make the trip down here every fall to go to games, and it’s kind of nice for us to return the favor and go up there and play.”