BILLINGS — Even the best athletes get butterflies and think about how they’ll perform when competing.
On a hot Wednesday afternoon at Rocky Mountain College, Colstrip’s Rylin Burns was anticipating playing in the Class B Big Sky All-Star Football Game Saturday at 11 a.m. at Lockwood High School.
As one of the best high school senior football players in Class B, the Colstrip Colts linebacker and running back was taking part in the first practice of all-star week under the bright sun.
“It’s been nice getting to know some of these guys I’ve never met,” said Burns, a 5-foot-11, 190-pounder. “They are cool dudes and it’s a good environment, especially on the field. I was nervous coming in, but I feel I can compete with these guys.”
A first-team all-conference linebacker and second-team all-conference running back, Burns was selected as an alternate for the Montana East-West Shrine Game.
It didn’t take Burns long to settle in and get into a rhythm working with his South teammates Wednesday afternoon.
“I’m not too nervous anymore, not after the first 20 minutes of practice,” he said as players gathered for lunch in the air-conditioned cafeteria at Rocky. “I got in a zone and wanted to play. It was pretty hot yesterday, too; that might have been part of it.”
Burns is honored to be playing in the game, where he said he’ll see time at linebacker, running back and special teams for the South.
“Ever since I learned about it I always wanted to be in it, this or the Shrine Game,” Burns said. “Every player who plays in this game wants to be in it, or the Shrine.
“Probably since I was in middle school, I always wanted to be in it. I thought it would be good to play with the best guys from the state.”
Last year the Big Sky All-Star Game wasn’t played due to the coronavirus pandemic. In 2019, the North downed the South 41-34 to claim a one-game lead in the annual series, 16-15.
This year’s Southern squad would like to even the score.
“We just want to win and beat the North,” Burns said. “We have the kids from Manhattan. They were state champs and we have good players from Whitehall. We have a lot of talent.”
This will be Burns’ last competitive football game before he begins his wrestling career at MSU-Northern, where he’ll enroll in electrical courses with the aim of becoming an electrician.
“Just leave it all out there,” Burns said of his goals for Saturday. “You can’t ask for anything more than the best I have.”
Wrestling at the NAIA level will be a welcome challenge, Burns said. The Lights finished last year ranked 11th in the NAIA Wrestling Coaches” Postseason Top 20 Poll.
“It’s a lot of good competition in the room and a good coach (Tyson Thivierge). He was a national champion and went to Northern, too,” Burns, who gave credit to his Colstrip teammates and coaches for pushing him along the way, said. “They had a national champion (Isaac Bartel) last year, too.”
The time for wrestling will come. For now the focus is on football.
“Right when I walk in the locker room I’ll be ready to go,” he said. “It’s going to be kind of cool seeing my talent compared to the other peoples’ talent and just the competition. The thing I love about sports is you have to be competitive to be good at anything you do.”
Email Gazette Sports Editor John Letasky at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsJohnL