This is the eighth in a nine-part series previewing fall high school sports. Thursday: Class AA football
BILLINGS – Ben Voss remembers the first time running onto the field as a varsity member of Billings Central’s football team.
It was, well, a little eye-opening.
“I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, what is this?’” the senior said.
“Now it’s comfortable and easy,” he added with a laugh.
Understandably so, as Voss has been a two-year starter for the Rams after breaking out as a sophomore. In two years as a starting running back, Voss has accounted for 1,504 yards on the ground, easily leading the team in that category both years. He has run for 18 scores and caught another seven while adding 417 yards receiving to his resume.
“It gave me some pretty good experience with the feel of the game,” Voss said. “I’m not that nervous anymore. I’m just having fun with it.
“Other kids go out there scared out of their minds and I was like that sophomore year when I first came out onto the field.”
That ability to stay relaxed prior to playing has been the biggest cause for improvement in his game over the past two seasons. Rather than stress himself out too much, Voss stays calm and collected heading into the game, a trait he said was not always the case and took some getting used to as his playing career continued.
“Whenever I got all tensed up I didn’t do very well,” Voss said. “So I just stayed relaxed through everything, even through the tense situations. Just stayed relaxed and let it flow.”
Though Voss was worried prior to games, Central football coach Jim Stanton had plenty of faith in his budding running back.
“He has a big level of toughness,” Stanton said. “He’s a tough kid. He weighs about 170 but he plays a lot bigger than that.”
Last year, Voss was the youngest of a Ram running back rotation that saw about four players get significant carries in a run-heavy offense. Voss led the team in carries, and Stanton said he figures he’ll carry even more of the load now that they try to incorporate some of the younger running backs.
“He’s going to be a leader out of that group,” Stanton said. “By and large, he’s going to be a busy kid on Friday nights.”
In all three seasons for Voss, the Rams have been halted by the Dillon Beavers in the Class A playoffs, twice in the semifinals including last season.
Voss, who originally hails from Enid, Oklahoma, a tiny town about an hour and a half from Oklahoma City, looks to be one of eight seniors for the Rams as they head into their 2017 opener at Miles City on Friday. The Rams took down the Cowboys twice last season.
Stanton said the team normally has double that number of seniors, including last year’s class. Of the 22 positions on the field, Stanton estimates the Rams are bringing back about five returners, the rest of which the younger players will have to fill.
He added that because Voss started seeing substantial playing time at a young age, he should connect well with other younger athletes who start seeing their shot.
“He’s been around some really good leaders in our program,” Stanton said. “That definitely rubs off on how they carry themselves and what’s expected of them out at practice and even in game situations. You can see the confidence in those kids and you can see it spread amongst the other kids as well.”
A more lead-by-example athlete, Voss looks forward to embracing his role as an older player on the team rather than a younger one.
And reminding the newer players that, hey, it is ok to be nervous.
“It’s normal,” he said. “Just have to go out there and hit somebody.
“This is a last chance to kind of have fun. Just going to enjoy it and it’ll be a lot of fun.”
Voss moved to Billings the summer of his eighth grade year. Of course, the weather was the biggest change to deal with, but an avid hunter, fisher and skier, Voss fit right in with what the Treasure State has to offer.
“It was different,” he said. “The first winter we had here it was freezing. We had a ton of snow … I love it up here. The wildlife and outdoors is amazing.”
While offense is his favorite, Voss will be used as a utility player on defense. He swings around from safety to outside linebacker to cornerback, a role he saw increase his junior year.
“I thought it was pretty cool,” Voss said. “I thought it was kind of a leadership role, too, because you have to do a lot of stuff … you have to know all of the plays, all of the blitzes and everything.”
It is a key role to know multiple positions, but it is a role Voss could not imagine he would have once he first put on the pads.
“Oh, heck, no,” he said about expecting role increases. “I wasn’t expecting to be varsity that quick, but it just kind of happened.”
College football is on his radar, though Voss is not sure where that might be. But even if that does not happen, Voss’s goal is simple.
“Just enjoy it,” Voss said. “If (college football) doesn’t work out, then I want to remember high school as a fun time.”