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When applying to become Gallatin’s first head coach, Hunter Chandler turned to a key mentor in his life for a reference.

He wrote down Mark Samson, who was Chandler’s coach at Montana State-Northern. Chandler has “a ton of respect” for Samson because he’s always someone who has provided advice.

Now, in the Raptors’ first-ever game, Chandler will be looking across at his former coach on the opposite sideline.

In their inaugural season, the Raptors host Great Falls, with Samson as the team’s head coach, at 7 p.m. Friday at Van Winkle Stadium. Chandler has learned plenty from Samson. He knows his former coach will have the opposing team fully prepared.

Leading a program in its initial campaign, Chandler admitted he’ll feel a mix of nervousness and exhilaration.

“You always have those pre-game jitters,” he said, “and I think that’s a good thing.”

Gallatin junior quarterback and defensive back Braeden Mikkelson noted how difficult starting a program can be. He complimented Chandler for leading that effort.

Junior defensive back Tyler Nansel added how eager the rest of the team is to play its first game, a landmark within the scope of Gallatin’s first school year. Nansel noted the success of the Bozeman Hawks’ football team and how he hopes to propel his squad toward replicating that.

“It has a lot of significance. Tradition is a really strong, powerful thing,” he said. “I would say the main traditions we’re hoping to establish as Raptors is a winning program. That’s the No. 1 thing we want to be, and we know all that takes is hard work.”

Nansel said the first few weeks of preseason practices began at a slow pace. But over time, that changed. The Raptors became accustomed to each other, built chemistry and began clicking.

The energy picked up once a depth chart was finalized. Chandler loved the enthusiasm and focus of his players. Once everyone knew their roles and assignments, Nansel said the speed of everything increased and the intensity level went “through the roof.”

The Raptors are optimistic that will translate to the game, even without seniors in their first season.

“It’s going to be a blast. We’re pumped. We can’t wait for kickoff,” Mikkelson said. “We’re going to bring the intensity as a team, and we’re all ready for it.”

The Raptors’ juniors have learned to take on more prominent responsibilities within the team because of their lack of seniors. In fact, Mikkelson said no seniors “doesn’t mean anything” to them.

This is why the juniors have accepted the pressure of leadership. They know they must set an example for others, especially freshmen.

And in games with limited attendance, Nansel stressed his classmates must provide extra energy.

“I think we’re ready,” he said. “I think we’ve stepped up to it, but we’ll see come Game 1.”

The Raptors realize how finite a season could be because of the coronavirus pandemic. They may never know when a practice or game could be the last of the year. This, Mikkelson said, adds extra anticipation around Friday.

Chandler emphasized he wants his team to be physical and to persevere through challenges. This is more important to him than the team’s record this year.

In the past weeks, Chandler has tried to concoct ways he can put players in the best positions to succeed — just like any other head coach. He believes the Raptors will be ready.

“You want to make sure the kids can play fast and that they’re calm and confident and they’re keyed into the right things,” Chandler said. “We’re on our way, and (the first game) will be the true test. Friday will be the real thing, and we’ll see how we do on the test.”

Extra attendance

Bozeman School District activities director Mark Ator told the Chronicle on Thursday two fans per athlete on visiting teams would now be allowed at all sporting events, effective Friday. This is on top of the two people per athlete for teams within the county allowed to each home game.

Ator said these fans must also follow social distancing guidelines and wear masks. He said this way people won’t be crowding at the fences outside of venues. At least in the complexes, Ator added, officials can control the situation better.

Ator said county health officials were sticking to their previous recommendation of only allowing two people per home team athlete. Ator added he was confident fans could still socially distance during these games. For example, Van Winkle Stadium has a capacity of about 4,000, so he believes it’s manageable.

“We want parents to see their kids,” Ator said. “It’s just the right thing.”

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Colton Pool can be reached at or 406-582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @CPoolReporter.