HELENA -- The Butte boys are heading home.
As the Saints travel on I-15 southward to Butte, America, to open up the season under the lights Thursday, their bus will chauffeur four locals back into their stomping grounds. Connor and Nate McGree, Kyle Harrington and Archie Petritz, all Butte Central alumni, will be on that bus, grappling with a weird feeling of donning white, the road team’s color, playing in their hometown and at a place previously reserved for home games.
Connor McGree is the oldest of the bunch, entering his junior season at Carroll. His play at tight end last season gave the Saints a steady blocker and an occasional threat in the passing game. He’s been to Butte a few times as a member of the Saints. This time, he said “30 or 40” family members will be in attendance, but it won’t change the surreal feeling upon entering Butte.
“It’s happened a couple times now in the last couple of years, but its’ always different coming down the hill with the whole team, knowing you’re going to play your hometown college,” he said.
Connor said playing at Carroll -- considering the intense rivalry that stems from youth sports and carries over to high school and colleges between Helena and Butte -- doesn’t feel like it makes him a defector. After all, his grandfather and great grandfather played at Carroll. His mother and two uncles also attended. In a lot of ways, he was born to be a Saint, though the decision to attend Carroll still ultimately came down to him.
Connor said there’s a strong Butte Central community in Helena, and he embraces it. After all, he is a part of that community that played a small role in bringing his younger brother Nate to Carroll.
“I didn’t try to push him to hard,” Connor said. “I knew it would be a good fit for him. I knew he’d like it. It’s turned out so well that he likes it now. I tried to let him do his own thing.”
“He was pretty good about it,” Nate said. “I was at looking at doing track, too. He said 'Carroll football is awesome, but you can do your own thing. I’ll support you either way.' He was good either way.”
Nate, a true freshman, is a 6-foot-2, 205-pound linebacker. He said the decision to come to Carroll felt a bit weird initially.
“No one really expects you to go out of Butte and go to Carroll, especially with football; it’s such a big rivalry,” Nate said. “Players here had no idea I was from Butte. Once they figured it out, me and Connor, they were shocked we came here instead of Tech. I don’t think it will be that bad. I know a bunch of people playing on Tech.”
Nate is ready for the odd feeling of wearing white at Alumni Coliseum.
“It’ll be different,” he said. "I think it will be fun.”
Harrington, the redshirt freshman running back, concurred with his fellow Maroons.
“It feels kind of weird since I’m from Butte and I played in Butte all my life,” Harrington said. “I feel glad because I know what Butte is like. They have a competitive spirit. Very hard working. To face an opponent like that is a blessing for me. I’m really happy about it.”
Harrington said he and the other Butte expats have brought over some of the Mining City’s demeanor. The blue-collar attitude is certainly present within tlhe Saints.
“I feel each of us bring the blue-collar feel to the team, since we were all raised in the same place,” he said. “We were all raised by basically the same coaches, and they trained us to be this way.”
The four enjoy the camaraderie. To not only be playing football with other Butte boys, but to all have come from the same high school is a comfortable feeling.
“Since they’re here, too, it’s companionship,” Harrington said. “It’s a home away from home feel. You have people that you’ve been playing with for many years, and if you ever need somebody to fall back on they’re the first people you want to go to since you’re familiar with them.”
As far as how they expect Thursday night to play out, Harrington is ready for two hard-working teams to give it their all. The Butte Central brothers will have familiar faces lining up across from them -- a battle to see who can better their peers.
“We’ve all talked about when we go to different colleges and when we finally see what we’re like against each other. We want to see who comes out on top.”
The Butte Saints are marching home.