DILLON — Kee Christiansen spent his freshman season absorbing as much football information and knowledge as he could from then-senior quarterback Jace Fitzgerald.
How to make reads faster and more efficiently. How to 'slow things down', meaning making smart choices in the pocket quickly and not letting the speed of the game rattle him. And, perhaps most importantly, how to remain calm under pressure.
"If I overthought something, he would help bring me back down and just calm me down and make me a better person," said Christiansen, now a sophomore signal caller for Dillon.
That year of Fitzgerald mentoring and investing in his successor has been paying off for the Beavers over the past month.
After dropping its first two games of the season — a close defeat to Whitefish followed by a running-clock loss to powerhouse Hamilton — Dillon and its young quarterback have reeled off four-straight wins.
The Beavers' final three opponents — Stevensville, East Helena and Ronan — have a combined two wins between them (both from the Yellowjackets), meaning Dillon has a very feasible path to closing out the regular season on a seven-game win streak and once again returning the Class A playoffs. The Beavers haven't missed the postseason since 2004.
The blowout loss to Hamilton served as both a gut check and teaching moment for Dillon.
"Just so fortunate that we got a group of great guys that understood we had to get better, that we had to take that process day by day." said fourth-year Dillon coach Zach McRae. "And I think we've done that. I think week by week we've tried to address some of the issues that Hamilton and Whitefish exposed and we're just on this continuous path of getting better one day at a time."
For Christiansen, he's joining an impressive lineup of quarterbacks that have made Dillon a perennial playoff contender over the past 20 years including Fitzgerald (now at Montana State), Justus Peterson, Troy Anderson (now a senior linebacker at Montana State), Ben Folsom (who played for Montana State in 2017), JT Linder, and Bryce Carver, who is now the head coach of Hamilton.
Since 2000, the Beavers have advanced to the State A title game 11 times and brought home eight championship trophies. That two-decade string of success can be attributed to the program's deep roots in Beaverhead County and beyond.
"Dillon Beaver football is ingrained in our community, and we have Beavers all over the state," McRae said. "Our guys are excited to put on the blue and gold when it's their opportunity, they grow up looking forward to that. When you get your opportunity, it's just fun.
"It comes with a lot of tradition, a lot of work ethic. We don't just hand those traditions down, you have to earn them. When guys get to a position like Kee has, it's just time to roll."
Six games into his role and Christiansen has built a respectable stat sheet, including 1055 passing yards and seven touchdowns against six interceptions.
With every game that passes, he's felt a little more at home in the pocket.
"My mind isn't rushing quite as fast as it was at the beginning of the season," Christiansen said. "It's slowing down and making me a whole lot calmer. If you panic, things start to go wrong. You've just got to stay calm and just do your game."