MISSOULA — One of the surprises of the high school football season in Montana this year has been the Valley Christian Eagles.
In just their second year at the 8-Man level, the Eagles are 6-0 to start the season. They have a big game against Arlee on Friday that could decide the conference, and they've been enjoying the ride every step of the way.
"It's been amazing," senior WR/RB/LB Elijah Fisher said. "I can't ask for a better season, it's my senior year. I was praying for this for a long time so God delivered."
Valley Christian started the season off with a one-point victory, 43-42, over Charlo, a program synonymous with success in football.
That shootout victory set the tone for the season for the Eagles who haven't looked back since, and have out-scored opponents 284-118.
"It was probably the biggest game of the season we've had so far," Fisher recalled. "We only won by one point so it was very close, but the intensity we had that game definitely set off the intensity we had in practices so far. We were very nervous for that game. When we had that teamwork in the first game, it just kind of picked up into the rest of the season.
"You practice like you play, so every practice we have as much intensity as we can. We keep the intensity up and we don't slack off. Even with some of the teams we've played that haven't been ranked the highest, we still don't slack off and go as hard as we can versus each team. Like, we've been putting so much work in the offseason that we don't want to let our teammates down for the work you've been doing. So the work we've been doing in the offseason has probably been the biggest factor."
Valley Christian went 3-5 last year in their first season jumping up to 8-Man after making the postseason in 2021 in 6-Man.
The growing pains were present, but the Eagles used this past offseason to grow as a unit so they could hit the ground running this fall. That hard work heading into the season has paid dividends.
"We didn't really know what to expect honestly," junior QB/LB/DB Daniel Stoltzfus said. "It was second year of 8-Man, we've just kind of been the underdogs for most of our games this year not really knowing what to expect but now as we get to this point building up more confidence, it's just been really good."
And it's that underdog mentality that has helped Valley Christian avoid complacency and keep building on their flawless campaign.
"I think it's really good, underdogs, just being humble," Stoltzfus said. "And that's what we try to apply out here, just being humble, and we just kind of see every game as just underdogs a little bit. I think that gives a little more push to just be better every day and just go out there and work hard.
"Man it's been awesome. This year has seemed just like a dream year this year, and God's blessed us with six wins, 6-0, we've been doing really good and I'm just so happy for it, for last year too. We were losing, switching spots, didn't really know where we were as a team, but those losses really helped us build up and just have better camaraderie as a team and really just to like experience the losses together."
With 29 players in the program this year — a far cry from the 13 the program sported back in 2019 when they were 6-Man — and just five seniors, the future is bright for Valley Christian.
But the focus remains on the here and now as the Eagles get set for the big game with undefeated Arlee (7-0) on Friday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium for the 8-Man West crown as they try to keep the momentum rolling in what's been a special 2023.
"They know who they play for and it's not worldly," Valley Christian head coach Jim Cissell said. "They play together. It is truly a brotherhood and a team. In the 9 or 10 years I've been coaching, I don't think Valley has had a team like this at all. It separates itself from everybody else. There's no I. I've got guys who will sit and are sitting that started last year, and they're helping those guys that are starters. It's just amazing to see that it's very unique.
"One week at a time. Like I tell them, it's just like in life. In life, each thing that you do, storms come and they go, but if you prepare yourself, trust in the Lord, trust in each other, and you'll be fine and that's what we're looking to do and so far it's worked very good this year and I can't imagine it stopping for next year either."