DILLON — The Montana Western football team began Friday afternoon's fall camp session accompanied by the loud thumping of classic rock in the background.
The tempo was up, even though this session didn't require the players to wear pads.
There is plenty of motivation for Western, this fall, partly due to a 7-4 season a year ago and the fact that the Bulldogs missed a playoff berth by a thread. Then there's opening day against College of Idaho.
Senior captain Hunter Thomsen leads the rushing attack and the bulky back bullied his way to 836 yards and nine touchdowns last season.
“The main role I try to focus on is being a leader for the young guys,” Thomsen said. “Teams don’t work if you don’t have good leaders.”
He says he spent the offseason working on his speed and feels good coming into the season.
Minutes before practice started, it was obvious that Thomsen has the respect of his teammates and coaches. Every drill is done with a full head of steam and if one player makes a mistake, he immediately drops and does pushups.
The pushups, however, are quite rare.
“He sets the tempo,” head coach Ryan Nourse said. “He’s intense and one of our most relentless players. Hunter’s physical, he’s an extremely smart football player, a great downhill back.”
Nourse, who coached the team from 2011-13 before taking an athletic director role, returned to his former position prior to the start of last season. His presence on the field is unmistakable and his energy seems contagious.
Also serving as the quarterback’s coach, he has the pulse of the offense under his thumb and seems to like what he’s seen so far out of his team.
“The guys came in in-shape, they’re strong, they’re dedicated, they’re committed and they’ve had good practices,” Nourse said. “The focus is playing tough defense and having a strong, physical run game.”
He also hinted at a big of a battle at quarterback. Junior J.D. Ferris — who started every game last season, throwing for 2.283 yards, 18 touchdowns and 12 picks — seems to have the advantage.
Nourse did mention freshman Sean Miller and senior Ben Gibson, saying both had good camps, so a battle might be brewing at that position.
Seniors Matt Fuhrman (30 receptions., 428 yds in 2016) and George Sherwood (24 for 303) seem to lead the receiving pack after the Bulldogs graduated their two top wideouts from last season.
There’s a lot of speed on the team and in practice, it was obvious. Nourse mentioned he plays with a bit of tempo and when running plays, things moved pretty quickly.
It’s still early in camp, of course, but there seems to be a very specific idea of how the offense is going to run.
Western will have several returning players on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive backs Zach Janis and Jay Owens, who had four and three interceptions, respectively, lead a defense that returns three of its top six leaders in tackles from a season ago.
“I think we have some pretty good experience on this team and I think I bring that a little bit,” Janis said. “I had a pretty good year last year and we have some guys who have some good ball-skills on this team,. I think we really bring that to the defense.”
The Bulldogs allowed 354.8 yards per game last season, which isn’t a terrible mark, but something the team would like to improve on this year.
There’s a strong linebacker corps as well, led by Jason Ferris and Michael Bennett who could be even better this season. Nourse certainly believes so and with the way the team is practicing, it certainly seems like things are continuing to trend in the right direction for the Bulldogs.
“We think the defensive backfield is going to be one of the strongest units we’ve had in the seven years I’ve been at Western,” Nourse said. “We feel good about the entire defense and they really are the heart and soul of our football team.”