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HAMILTON — University of Montana football fans may want to make plans for Friday nights in Hamilton this fall. 

That's where the Grizzlies' quarterback of the future will be playing his home games, after all. Griz fans have notoriously high expectations for their signal callers, so they should come see for themselves what UM is getting in Hamilton senior Carson Rostad. It's only an hour drive south.

Almost assuredly, you wont be disappointed.

"He's just a wonderful kid," Hamilton coach Bryce Carver said. "...He's a 4.0 student; He's a kid you would want as your own son, or dating your daughter or something like that. You’d be really happy having him around your life."

Or having him on your football team.

Montana's reigning Gatorade Player of the Year has some of the state's all-time high school football records in his sights this season, but he's not focusing on them. Rostad said his only "individual" goal is to help his team to a state championship title.

That's about the only thing that has eluded him and his Broncs the last two years.

***

Two years ago, when Rostad was a sophomore, the Broncs saw their season end on Columbia Falls' frozen field in the Class A state championship game. One year later, the Broncs' season finished with heartbreak again — this time on Hamilton's own brand new sprint turf, unseasonably warm for the Class A state title matchup against Billings Central.

Twice Rostad has had all-state seasons and led Hamilton to the season's final game. Twice the Broncs have taken the silver trophy.

"That really stung. We don't want to feel that again," Rostad said. "That’s why a lot of kids worked really hard this summer."

Rostad included. The college-bound quarterback already looks physically capable of taking snaps at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. He stands at 6-foot-3 — not including a top-knot he sometimes sports to hold his shoulder-length hair — and he weighs in at almost 220 pounds. He didn't miss a day in the weight room during the offseason, Carver said, as Rostad packed on another 15 pounds in muscle for his senior season.

"He knows he’s gotta stay a little bit bigger for as many hits as he’s gotta take running the ball and playing defense," said Carver of Rostad, who was also an all-state safety for the Broncs. "The hits are going to be bigger when he gets into college."

As it was, the hits against a bruising Billings Central team in the 2018 title game were pretty big already. The Rams' physicality was evident in just about every stat line. They ran for 430 yards, held a 21-minute time-of-possession advantage and held a Hamilton offense that had been averaging over 48 points per game to just 21.

The Rams also delivered a hit to Rostad that briefly — albeit at a crucial moment — took the imposing quarterback out of the game.

"I pulled my hamstring right here," Rostad said, pointing to the inside of his leg. "It was really tough and it got even worse because there was a penalty and we thought that’d count as a play and I could go back in, but then I couldn’t."

Trailing 28-14 in the fourth quarter, Rostad had to come out of the game for one play after leaving the field with the injury. That play was a fourth down from Hamilton's own 26-yard line. The Broncs couldn't convert.

Hamilton followed with an impressive defensive stand, though, setting up a heroic effort by the hobbled Rostad on the next drive. He converted on a pair of fourth downs — one on a 22-yard pass, the other on a 15-yard run — and connected on his second passing touchdown and third overall of the game to pull the Broncs within one touchdown, 28-21. The drive took all of 1 minute 33 seconds.

But the Broncs were unable to gather the ensuing and imperative onside kick and Central was able to kneel its way to a state championship.

To be so close to a state title twice and come up short is excruciating.

"That really is always in the back of our minds," senior wide receiver and Rostad's top returning target Tucker Jones said. "Carson and I were the only two kids starting when we lost to Columbia Falls (two years ago), but there’s a lot of us now coming back that lost last year. They don’t like the taste of that."

That's why Rostad's radar is keenly set on a state championship. While he's focused on that, the rest of Montana should get quite a show.

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***

Rostad has thrown for 7,740 yards through three seasons, ranking him fourth all-time in Class A, according to leaguelineup.com/nwmta. Immediately ahead of Rostad is Whitefish's Luke May, who threw for 7,965 career yards between 2012-15, according to the Montana High School Association. Even an average performance from Rostad in Hamilton's Week 1 Southwest A matchup against Butte Central on Friday should move the Bronc QB into third all-time. He threw for 232 yards per game last season while leading the state in passing yards with 2,794 even while the Broncs often rested their starters in the second half.

Next up would be Columbia Falls' Dakota Bridwell, No. 2 all-time with 7,982 yards — a number that should fall to Rostad early in the season.

"I hope he does," coach Carver said of Rostad not just breaking the milestones but also improving on a season where he was already deemed to be one of the best — if not the best — football player in the state. "He just needs to do things right and not try to do to much, just do the things that will prepare him for the next level. He’s got a future at the next level and those are things we’re going to continue to work on with him.

"...Just keep working on his craft. With that comes the numbers and the players around him obviously help him with that."

As it is, Rostad will be breaking his own passing touchdown record every time he links up with one of his receivers for a score. His career mark of 106 touchdowns in the air (against just 24 interceptions) is already tops in 11-man football history, five better than Havre's Dane Warp from 2012-2015, according to the Montana High School Association.

Warp's 10,801 passing yards, attempts (1,081) and completions (708) do, however, still sit sit atop the leaderboard for Rostad to reach.

To get there, though, Rostad is going to have to find another go-to receiver. 

***

Gone is the graduated Cam Rothie, now catching passes at Carroll College. His 21 receiving touchdowns ranked second all-time for a single-season mark in Class A, and he added 1,195 yards receiving in just 11 games.

The Broncs' No. 2 touchdown catcher is back, though, in Jones. He finished with eight receiving touchdowns and was fourth on the team in yards with 421. 

Still the Broncs lost 180 receptions, 35 touchdowns and 2,363 yards between five players who graduated. That's a lot to make up.

"Obviously we lost a lot of production with those guys, some guys that have played a lot of football for us," Carver said. "But those guys were good leaders to these guys and it just continues on and hopefully they can emulate what they did."

Along with Jones, who was an all-conference receiver and all-state at linebacker, Hamilton picked up a pair of proverbial hired guns in the form of Corvallis transfers Rory Jessop and Mason Murray. Jessop was all-conference at slotback and Murray was all-conference on the defensive side of the ball. 

Loyola Sacred Heart transfer wide receiver Jaiden Klemundt also joined the rotation this fall making Rostad feel like he's plenty well armed.

"We've got a lot of playmakers," Rostad said. "We’re going to be quick, explosive and we’re going to score a lot of points."

One of those playmakers is Rostad's own younger sibling, Tyson. The sophomore, who played backup quarterback to his older brother last season as a freshman, could see his number called by Carson this season. The two have been running over the playbook at home.

"Throughout the summer we’ve been working on routes together," Tyson said. "I never really thought I’d have a spot to work towards to play with my brother and catch passes from my brother that’s going to play college football."

A brother who Tyson said is working hard behind the scenes to elevate his game.

"The biggest thing I've learned from Carson was to work hard, mostly when people aren’t even watching," Tyson said. "Working hard when people aren’t looking gets you a lot of places."

Like college football Saturdays and state titles. Rostad already has one of those checked off his list.

Now Montana — and its Griz fans — get to see if Rostad and the Broncs can get the other.

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