DEER LODGE —After 28 years of being the head coach of the Powell County Wardens football program, Al Cutler is hanging up his whistle after the 2013 campaign ends.

If he and his players have it their way, it will take a lot longer to reach this season’s finish line than it did last year, when the Powell County squad finished 3-5 overall and missed out on the Class B state playoffs.

With nine regular-season games and a determined group of young Wardens for him to guide, if Cutler can navigate through the tough waters of District 6B, any retirement party could be put on hold until November.

“Yeah this is my last year, but I don’t want to make a big deal about it, because it’s all about the kids,” Cutler said. “It’s been awesome, I am taking a page out of my own speeches I tell the players every year, ‘live in the moment.’ Enjoy practice, enjoy all aspects of it, and I have taken that attitude and it’s been awesome. This is a very special group, and we have been through a lot with them.”

This group has bought into a revised attitude that Cutler and his staff brought to the table to help crank expectations up a notch or ten.

“We are changing the whole climate of our practices and our leadership roles, by giving more direction in things and how we want our leaders to act,” Cutler said. “These kids have bought into it all summer and worked their tails off all summer.”

Junior Ethan Johnston, who moves to quarterback this season, saw the changes immediately in his teammates and it has paid dividends on a morale front.

“No, 3-5 doesn’t sit very well to me,” Johnston said. “It s definitely not a very good year to look back on. We have better seniors this year and better leadership. We just have a whole better group with more experience. Our leaders lead by example and show more character.”

Tristen Clark, a Wardens’ senior, saw a maturation in the program that brought the group of players closer together.

“There is a big difference between the two years,” Clark said. “We are more team-oriented where last year we were more spread out. We hang out a lot more and have a lot more unity. This summer we had 10 to 12 guys that would be at each throw-around learning our new offense so that has helped a ton.”

Despite their closer bond as teammates, that doesn’t mean they will settle for anything less than each others’ best. If someone doesn’t deliver with a top-notch effort they will be called to check themselves at the door.

“We are an accountable team because if someone is doing bad or jogging around we will let them know,” Clark said. “But if we do get on them they don’t get offended because they know that we are all trying to make each other better. With a 3-5 record we can’t be nice to each other.”

The leadership these players have shown were first called out by Cutler and staff.

“This is probably the first year in a long time where the coaches picked the captains and we wanted to send a message to the team that this is what we expect and what kind of commitment we expect,” Cutler said. “The kids are definitely taking ownership.”

One of those aspects of stepping up has seen the Wardens elevate their level of conditioning.

“We made a lot of mental mistakes last year and we are in better physical condition coming in this year and that could make a difference,” senior Justin Marshall said. “It was just a matter of our mental game. We’ve got experience now. Last year we learned and hopefully we can turn things around. We had a bitter taste in our mouth from last season and we wanted to start making things happen.”

Cutler says his offense appears on the verge of making a lot of things happen.

“Our quarterback last year was Tristen Clark, but our definition of a quarterback is to get the ball to the right people and we want to get the ball to Tristen,” Cutler said. “Ethan will do well for us at quarterback and Clay Applegate is a great runner also. We run some read-option which is a lot like Butte High’s.”

At last week’s Blue-Gold scrimmage Cutler saw plenty of pop from his offense to feel giddy about its prospects.

“Our Blue-Gold scrimmage was 32-28 at halftime but was our defense that bad I don’t know,” Cutler quipped. “But with our number one offense we were very pleased. I am happy with our running game with our receivers and the line is doing very well.”

Despite the high score during the scrimmage, the Wardens won’t fret just yet about their defense.

“Our defense is going to be fine because we will have all our number ones in there which will change our view on things,” Cutler said as he noted the play of Becker, Mitchell, Thompson, Clark, and Connor Rodgers on the defensive side of the ball. “Ethan led the league in interceptions at the safety spot with seven which is good playing eight games.”

Despite a tough league schedule and only two state spots available, Cutler is feeling like his last year could be a good one.

We will be better than 3-5 no doubt, but we just have to stay healthy and keep improving,” Cutler said. “We are in a tough league. Any time you play Ronan, Loyola which is a lot like Butte Central with all that tradition, and Mission so…Only two teams go to the playoffs so it’s a dogfight.”

On Friday night, the Wardens open up with a solid opponent at Jefferson High School 7 p.m in Boulder.

“They are a 3-5 defense and they look big,” Cutler said of Jefferson. “They have some big physical kids and have some good skill kids. I think we will do alright, it’s all about controlling that line of scrimmage. Obviously we want to get off to a good start, but the one major thing I will be checking is our conditioning and see how that checks out. You can never really evaluate that until you step out onto the field. We also have to cut down the mental errors and if we do I think we will be good to go.”

A change in approach and attitude goes a long way, but a win here or there could definitely spark a Powell County football revival and send Cutler out as head coach as a new party gets started.

“I want us to see the playoffs, that’s my minimal,” Marshall said. “I could live if we can set a tone and all the kids follow us and can build off of that. That would be cool.”

Powell County Wardens

Head coach: Al Cutler (28th year)

2013 League Record: 1-4

2013 Overall Record: 3-5

2013 Roster: SENIORS - Clay Applegate, Levi Becker, Tristen Clark, Justin Marshall* change name in story, Dylan Roselles, and Trent Surina: JUNIORS - Logan Beck, Lukas Bucholtz, Sean Cozby, Blake Erickson, Tristen Huff, Ethan Johnston, Tennyson Miller, Andrew Pierson, Connor Rodgers, Jacob Simpson, and Tyler Walter; SOPHOMORES - Jake Brown, Quentin Cooper, Parker Dippold, Keegan Ingraham, Sawyer Johnson, Michael Odden, and Kordell Smith; FRESHMEN - John Bannon, Cade Benjamin, Erik Byrne, Karson Johnson, Koby Owens, Colin Rogers, and John Zachary.

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