DILLON — The University of Montana Western Bulldogs football team received nine votes to earn a No. 26 national ranking in the 2015 NAIA Football Coaches’ Preseason Poll.
The recognition comes after a strong finish to the 2014 football season that saw Montana Western win its last four contests, including a 60-15 rout over MSU-Northern in the season finale. The Bulldogs finished with a 6-4 conference record and a #27 ranking in the final NAIA Football Coaches Poll of 2014.
Third-year head coach B.J. Robertson, felt honored that the team was recognized by voters, although he understands that the votes come from the end of the 2014 season and Montana Western is ready for the 2015 season.
“We hope to ride that momentum into the 2015 season but this is Team 84 not Team 83. Team 84 wants to be ranked in the polls at the end of the season when it counts,” Robertson said.
This years’ team will have a very different look to it after losing three Frontier Conference selections, offensive linemen Nick Brown and defensive end Phil Selin, who are both returning to the sideline as coaches in 2015, and All-American safety Jesse McCloud. The Bulldogs will also look to replace two-year starting quarterback Tyler Hulse.
Despite the losses of some very talented players, Montana Western returns four Frontier all-conference selections in 2015; second team selections Sam Rutherford a junior from Centerville, Mont. coming off the first 1,000 yard rushing season in Montana Western history, senior linebackers Joe Coker and A.J. Wilson from Helena, and first team honoree, offensive linemen Will Thacker from Winnemucca, Nevada, as well as a solid core of returning players.
Offensively the Bulldogs will be led by co-captains Will Thacker and senior running back from Laurel, Dylan Kramer. Kramer has been a staple of the Bulldog football team for the past three seasons. He has compiled 2,880 career all-purpose yards and 12 total touchdowns during his career, which includes 908 yards of total offense and six touchdowns as a true freshmen. The offense will also return their leading receiver from the 2014 campaign, junior Beau Brekke from Salmon, Idaho. Brekke compiled over 600 yards on 40 receptions and collected six touchdowns as a sophomore.
On defense, Montana Western will be led by co-captains Wilson and senior defensive back Dakota Pineda from Idaho Falls, Idaho. The entire linebacker crew returns from the 2014 season to join all-conference selections Wilson and Coker, including seniors T.J. Benson from Libby and Dakota Wainwright from Palmer, Alaska. Wainwright led the Bulldogs with 78 and 72 tackles respectively. Benson returned his only interception for a touchdown.
There will be familiar faces on the field for the Montana Western special teams as both the starting punter, George Sherwood a sophomore from Kalispell, Mont., and kicker, junior Connor Greth from Minden, Nevada, return for the 2015 season. Sherwood averaged 38.6 yards per punt in his 36 attempts in 2014 and had five punts of 50+ yards, including a long of 55 yards. Greth connected on 32 extra points and 10 field goals last season to score 62 points for the Bulldogs, he has a career long field goal of 47 yards.
Even with all of the returning talent, national recognition in the polls, and high expectations that the Bulldogs have set for themselves, they understand the rigors of playing in the Frontier Conference, which has three teams ranked inside the Top 15: No. 1 Southern Oregon, No. 4 Carroll College, and No. 15 Eastern Oregon University.
“Every week you have to be ready to give it your best. Nothing but your best will be good enough in this league,” said Robertson, “the next step in our program is being consistent week in and week out. If we can do that we have a chance.”
The challenge the Frontier Conference has to offer is one that Montana Western is ready to take head on behind the leadership of 22 seniors. Coach Robertson expects this large group of seniors to demonstrate the pride, hard work, and physicality it takes to be competitive every week in the Frontier Conference.
Montana Western will open its season on Sept. 5 at Rocky Mountain College, kickoff will be at 1 p.m.
The home opener will be on Sept. 12 again College of Idaho, kickoff will be at 1 p.m.
— Montana Western Sports Information