DILLON — Some players on Montana Western's football team had never flown before when the Bulldogs boarded a Kentucky-bound plane in November.
The trip, a first-round playoff game against defending national champion Lindsey Wilson, would be a memorable one even before the opening kickoff. Several flight delays resulted in the game being postponed a day as Western overcame numerous travel hiccups just to get to their final destination.
Ultimately, the 16th-seeded Bulldogs weren't able to pull out the opening-round upset. But Western walked away from its first postseason appearance since 2002 feeling like it had represented its school and conference well.
"It was a great experience, and I thought we played to our best ability," said Western wide receiver Trey Mounts, a redshirt senior from Belgrade. "Some of the guys hadn't even gotten to fly before so it was cool to see that. Some of our families came along. It was awesome."
The playoff berth was the culmination of a historic season for Western. The Bulldogs beat Rocky Mountain College in double overtime at home in the season finale to clinch a share of the Frontier title and finish the season at 8-4 overall and 7-3 in conference play. The eight wins were the most for Western since 2002.
Now heading into the final week of Western's 2022 spring camp, the key for the Bulldogs is now translating that success last season into more progress this coming fall.
"I think it hopefully set the state for some more hunger and hopefully some guys who want to do that more," said Western head coach Ryan Nourse. "They want to make that something that's a regular occurrence."
A theme through this spring camp for Western has been developing a higher football IQ both on an individual and team level.
"Expectations for myself I thing would be making the right play," said quarterback Jon Jund who threw for 3055 yards and 33 touchdowns last season. "It's not all about shooting the ball down the field and getting huge numbers. I kind of figured that out last season."
"The goal is to get smarter as a team," Mounts said. "That's the main thing is to kind of understand what we're doing on a day-to-day basis for plays and all that. Just coming together as a team cause that's the biggest thing. That's how we win."
Nourse is also committed to elevating the level of competitiveness in his players. It may sound like an abstract concept, but for Nourse it's quite simple.
"It's pride in performance," he said. "Every opportunity that you have, every opportunity that you have to give your best. Your true and honest best effort in those situations. To challenge each other. To boost each others confidence. To know that iron sharpens iron."
Sharper decision making, smarter plays, bringing your best on every single play. Those are the attributes the Bulldogs are trying to find-tune as spring camp winds down. The bar has been set, and now Western is looking for players to reach that mark as the Bulldogs begin drafting a two-deep depth chart.
"We're just trying to find guys that can come out and play and that we can rely on," said junior Kameron Rauser, who was listed as a defensive back last season but has transitioned to mike linebacker. "Next year's a big year for a lot of these younger guys. They might be seeing some playing time. Just a big time to get experience and get ready to go."