CORVALLIS — Down in the Bitterroot Valley, it's been a long time coming for the Corvallis Blue Devils, who are 5-0 to start the 2023 high school football season as they've been one of the best feel-good stories on the season.
Corvallis has been a program that historically has had its struggles in football.
But this year the Blue Devils have seemingly turned things around with the regular season more than halfway over.
"I think just sticking together, working through all of these tough years, bonding as a team and we've really just come together," Corvallis senior wide receiver and cornerback Bennett Boelman said. "Lots of upperclassmen starters and execute well.
"When we were all sophomores and we were starting freshmen and sophomores, it was obviously really tough just the size disadvantage and everything, but all of us putting work in the weight room, stuff like that the last two years, it's been just uphill from there."
The start has been a historic one in Corvallis, as it's the first time the Blue Devils have started the season 5-0 since 1975. Their win over Butte Central in Week 4 to improve to 4-0 was the best mark the program had seen to start the season since 1987.
Included in those wins are a 41-6 victory over Frenchtown and a 7-0 triumph over Whitefish, two programs that have seen a lot of success over the years and had fared particularly well against the Blue Devils before.
Corvallis has 40 players in the program this year, 14 of them seniors, and those upperclassmen who were thrown into starting roles as freshmen and sophomores are now seeing the fruits of their labor after taking their lumps and struggling mightily over the years.
"It really helped us get along," junior quarterback Aydan Mayn said. "Going through the losses together and then going through wins together is definitely a way better feeling. Being the underdog and coming through it is a really cool thing to be a part of.
"It's special to be a part of and contributing to the success of the team."
This summer, the team took a contingent to Montana Tech's football camp, where the Blue Devils lost just one game and performed strongly. It was there the belief that this could be a special year began to form.
And the Blue Devils aren't just winning games, they're dominating, having outscored opponents 190-6 in the first five games.
"We were always on the brink of potentially beating teams that were supposedly way better than us, but we always had that etiquette because since we lose all the time, once we had a really good play put on us, then we hung our heads too soon. And this year whenever they have a big play against us, we just don't hang our heads anymore," senior left guard and defensive tackle Landon Johansen said. "So that's really helped us stay together with a strong mind.
"We just try not to get lost in our own heads that we're the best team, and we treat every game like a playoff game basically even though we might know we have a good chance against them. But we know we've got to do everything possible in practice, we can't have an off day in practice."
Mayn, Boelman and Johansen have been a few of the key contributors this year for Corvallis, which has also been getting strong contributions from linebacker Levi Reynoso, wide receivers Dillen Potter and Gideon Boswell, running back Logan Avery and cornerback Cameron Whiteley.
Mayn, Johansen, and Boelman are the team's captains as well as right guard Isaac Stoker and tight end and defensive end Solomon Morgan.
The program's turnaround has been under the watchful eye of third-year head coach Josh McCrossin, whose biggest joy has been seeing his players finally see those victories after years of losses.
"The most exciting part of it is understanding that this is the first opportunities these kids have had to really just enjoy and be part of this huge momentum of success within their program, and that's what I am really excited about for those kids and grateful for, is they get to ride that momentum and not have broken up wins here and there, only winning against certain teams," said McCrossin, a Darby native. "We're winning and winning well against all of these teams early on in the season, and so 5-0, any coach is happy to be at that point, but the way we've done it as well, I'm just super proud of our guys."
Now, the Blue Devils have their eyes set on a big matchup with Dillon on Friday — the Beavers are ranked No. 2 by MontanaSports.com, while the Blue Devils are No. 5 — and possible postseason implications, which would be their first playoff run since 2018.
But for now, it's about enjoying the ride and the turnaround of the program.
"It's great, I love it," Boelman said. "I really hope that we can leave a legacy here and Corvallis keeps winning."