DILLON — Eli Nourse was happy enough that he had climbed up Montana Western's football depth chart following the Bulldogs' season-opening road win over Eastern Oregon, where the Dillon native logged his first touchdown reception.
The eye-catching yardage and touchdown haul the true freshman slot receiver has enjoyed since then has just been a bonus.
"I was just excited that I got moved to a starting spot," said Nourse. "I wasn't really expecting numbers."
Through six games, the Beaverhead County High School graduate has established himself as one of the top scoring threats in the Frontier Conference. His eight touchdown receptions are tied for first in the Frontier and his 666 receiving yards are the best in the conference. And his 111 receiving yards per game average is good enough for fourth place in the NAIA.
The potential to produce that kind of output from Game 1 was the primary catalyst that spurred Nourse to join his hometown college while he was mulling his college decision. He had two offers to consider during his senior year of high school — a preferred walk-on opportunity with Montana and a scholarship offer from Western.
Both routes had their upside, but the prospect of starting as a true freshman versus taking a chance on a non-scholarship offer swayed him to play for the team that's been coached by his father, Ryan Nourse, for most of his life.
"The Griz is obviously an awesome opportunity," said Eli. "But there's a lesser chance you're gonna play there versus here where I can make an immediate impact. I knew either place I'd have a good experience, but I just wanted to play."
He's certainly seen plenty of playing time and has 49 catches and is averaging over 13 yards per reception. Along the way he's helped No. 15 Western to a 5-1 overall record and a 3-1 mark in the Frontier.
Nourse credits a lot of his success to the play of redshirt sophomore and first-year starting quarterback Michael Palandri, whose 250 passing yards per game is second in the Frontier.
"He's very businesslike," Nourse said of Palandri. "If I run a route wrong, he'll tell me. If he wants me to do something, he'll tell me. Same with all the other wideouts. And that's where we built that chemistry at practice and through fall camp."
Ryan Nourse obviously has had plenty of years to observe his son play football, and his decision to recruit him was based on what Eli could bring to Western's program and not on his last name.
"I wouldn't have recruited him if I didn't believe he was good enough to play," said Ryan. "He knew that, we knew that. It was a mutual decision, he wanted to come here and we really wanted to have him here."
The decision to have Eli suit up as a true freshman was a straightforward process and one that has clearly paid off for the Bulldogs as they stay in the hunt for a conference title.
"It's just if they're the best player," said Ryan. "That's really all there is to it. Are they gonna give you the best opportunity to be successful?"
The Bulldogs make the trek to Glendale, Ariz., this week to face Frontier Conference newcomer Arizona Christian (2-5, 1-4) before returning home to take on MSU-Northern.