The last time football fans in Missoula saw Bryce Carver, he was decked out in maroon and silver and starting for the Grizzlies. Almost five years have passed, but Carver has never really left the game.
After three years as an assistant on the Hamilton Broncs staff, Carver will take over as the head football coach of the Class A high school team this fall. He served as coordinator of the Broncs' explosive offense last fall and will succeed Travis Blome, who is stepping down to assume the role of Hamilton's athletic director.
For Carver, the head coaching job is the fulfillment of what seemed like a lifelong inevitability. The 26-year-old from Dillon comes from a family of athletes and coaches.
"I grew up a coach's kid," said Carver, whose father, Brett, is a longtime assistant for the Beavers and whose sister, Mandi, is a basketball coach at Fresno State." It's been a lifestyle for me. I feel like I've been groomed for this my whole life."
A standout athlete at Beaverhead County High in Dillon, Carver transitioned from quarterback to receiver when he joined the Grizzlies in 2009. He played in seven games that fall as a true freshman and worked his way into a starting spot by his senior year in 2012.
In that span the Griz went through a pair of coaching changes, and Carver said the variety of styles he played under helped expand his knowledge of the game. From coaches Bobby Hauck and Mick Delaney, Carver learned the physicality of the power run game. Under Robin Pflugrad, he rediscovered the excitement of a spread offense.
"It probably wasn't the most ideal situation in college to play for three different guys, but I was able to learn a lot and take a lot away from their different philosophies," Carver said.
The Broncs were a mix of those approaches in 2016 with Carver calling the plays as offensive coordinator. Senior running back Manny Rivera rushed for 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns while the passing attack matured with freshman quarterback Carson Rostad taking the snaps. He threw for 1,800 yards and 24 TDs and could be primed for further improvement this fall.
"We were pretty successful with a lot of those younger kids who stepped up for us," Carver said. "We'll have four starting receivers back and our quarterback we threw in after Game 3 as a freshman."
Hamilton went 7-4 and won a playoff game for the third time in four years. Carver, who will teach physical education and strength training while finishing his second degree in education from Montana Western, will have plenty of help trying to lead the Broncs back to the postseason. Blome is still around to lend a helpful ear and former Hamilton coach Steve Weston, who led the team to four straight State A title games and two championships from 1998-2000, remains an assistant.
"It's nice that our whole coaching staff remains the same," said Blome, who is taking over AD duties from the retiring Darrell Holland. "Everyone else will come back and he'll have a lot of help and support from a lot of guys with a lot of years of experience."
Blome will retain his boys' basketball coaching job at the school. He coached football the previous six years while handling hoops as well the past three. Carver is the Broncs' JV basketball coach as well.
Hamilton has also hired Jodi Bush as its head volleyball coach. Bush comes to Hamilton from just down the road at Class C Victor. She also led the Darby varsity squad from 2013-15, a stretch that included a District 13-C championship in 2014.
"She's very detail-oriented and hopefully she can take our volleyball program to some great levels," Blome said.
Hamilton was 2-17 last season under coach DeEtte Monson, who was in her 11th season with the team. The Broncs haven't reached the State A volleyball tournament since 2011.
In other western Montana coaching news, Kalispell Flathead will hire Nicole Fairclough as its next head volleyball coach. The Class AA Bravettes were 3-19 under coach Courtney Baker last season.