TOP DAWGS: Bulldogs atop Frontier preseason poll

M.P. Regan
Wednesday, August 3, 2022

The University of Montana Western football team begins the 2022 preseason where it ended the 2021 regular season.

“We believe we can compete at the top of the Frontier Conference,” asserted UMW Head Coach Ryan Nourse, whose belief got affirmed by the league’s preseason coaches poll released last week that tabbed the Bulldogs as favorites to win the league again in 2022.

Though that same poll suggests this year’s league title race could be just as tight—or even tighter—than last season’s, when UMW went 7-3 for Frontier games, finishing in a three-way tie with College of Idaho and Rocky Mountain College, then gaining the conference crown and a berth in the NAIA playoffs through the league tie-breaking matrix.

Montana Western came out on top with 43 points and four first-place votes in the preseason coaches’ poll results rolled out last week as part of the league’s football media day staged in Great Falls.

Second place featured the double occupancy of Rocky and Carroll College, with both gaining 37 points, though Carroll also notched three firstplace votes.

Close behind, College of Idaho tallied 33 points and the poll’s final first-place vote, while Montana Tech tallied 30 points to round out the tight-knit top five of the eight-team Frontier.

The next two poll places went to Eastern Oregon (19 points) and Southern Oregon (17 points), both teams that got used to finishing at or near the top of the Frontier over the past decade, when each also made a deep run into the NAIA playoffs.

The team that spent a lot of time in the Frontier basement over the past half-decade, Montana State University-Northern, got picked to finish there again in 2022, with just 7 points in the poll.

Though this season, the Northern Lights will be led by a new, highly accomplished head coach.

“We’re looking forward to the challenge of a lifetime and to compete against these great coaches here,” said Jerome Souers, who before taking the MSUN head coaching job this offseason set the mark as the winningest head football coach in the history of the Big Sky Conference, with the 123 victories he collected while leading Northern Arizona University for a two-decade-stretch that started in 1998, following his eight seasons serving as offensive coordinator for the University of Montana Griz.

Standing tall at the other end of the Frontier Conference preseason poll results, Montana Western boasts the head coach with the most experience coaching in the league, one who’s seen both ends of the Frontier standings over the past 11 years

“It seemed like forever ago I was playing with a bunch of freshmen and sophomores,” recalled Nourse, who was forced to start mostly underclassmen during his first few years leading the Bulldog program he took over in 2011.

“Where now, I can’t believe how long they’ve been around and how well we know each other,” commented Nourse of his players, whose ranks this season will include a bevy of redshirt seniors that starred for the team last season.

“We have a veteran team; we have another senior-laden team,” noted Nourse, who returns eight starters on offense, among them: firstteam all-league running back Reese Neville; 2021 Frontier Conference Offensive Player of the Year Jon Jund; all-league wide receiver and return specialist Trey Mounts, and Noah Danielson, the steamrolling, stonewalling offensive linemen Nourse has, on occasion, tagged as the best player in the league.

The Bulldogs also boast seven returning starters on defense, a unit that includes shut-down corner Latrell McCutcheon and his fellow allleague pick Tanner Harrell—a defensive lineman equally disruptive rushing the passer and stuffing running backs.

That defense will be helmed by former UMW linebacker Riley Martello—perhaps the only man who could bring more intensity and a more fervent work ethic to the UMW defensive coordinator position than his predecessor Rob Goode, who left Dillon at the end of last season following a decade working with the Bulldog football program so he could live and coach in the Midwest, where he grew up and still has family.

The Bulldogs remained busy in the offseason, with workouts and an enthusiastic spring camp.

“We feel good about coming into fall camp knowing all the work you’ve done is going to give you an opportunity. And that’s that we’re going to get is an opportunity,” emphasized Nourse, who welcomed players back for fall camp yesterday.

“I can remember in 2011, when we were not at the top of the Frontier Conference, and all the work that it’s taken,” recalled Nourse of the long hard climb from the bottom of the Frontier to the top.

Released last Thursday, the College Football America preseason NAIA poll rated UMW at no. 20.

Monday’s NAIA preseason football poll listed the Bulldogs at no. 17.

“We are coming into fall camp,” affirmed Nourse, “with high expectations.”