Fall has been in flux across the Big Sky Conference. The circumstances have been no different at the University of Montana when it comes to the football program.
The Griz, fresh off a 10-win season that saw Montana advance to the final eight of the FCS playoffs for the first time in seven years, just started taking advantage of the NCAA allotted practice times given to teams that are not playing games this fall.
None of the Big Sky schools on the West Coast — Sac State, UC Davis, Cal Poly, Eastern Washington and Portland State — have conducted any fall ball practices. Northern Arizona started Thursday. There’s no evidence in the media of any practices for Idaho State, Idaho, Southern Utah or Northern Colorado.
Montana State will wrap up its fall ball schedule with a “fall brawl” scrimmage. MSU head coach Jeff Choate said based on conversations with fellow coaches around the league that his team has gotten in more football this fall than any team in the league.
The Grizzlies will try to follow suit, although Montana had a delayed start to fall practices compared to the Bobcats because of quarantines of players due to contract tracing stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no set date for any form of fall scrimmage for the Grizzlies as of yet, but practice is underway under the current NCAA allotments.
Montana enters its next season and the third under head coach Bobby Hauck (whenever that may be) with 18 seniors on its roster, including fifth-year seniors wide receivers Sammy Akem and Samori Toure, linebacker Jace Lewis, safety Gavin Robertson, offensive linemen Kordell Pilans, Conlan Beaver and Moses Mallory and former Power 5 defensive ends Justin Belknap (Arizona) and Joe Babros (North Carolina State).
The roster will also not feature a collection of players who appear on the 2019 roster and did not exhaust their eligibility: wide receiver Jesse Owens (transferred to Montana State to play hoops), cornerback Dareon Nash (transferred to Idaho), safety Marcus Hee, cornerback Josh Egbo (graduated), running back Adam Eastwood, safety Mykal Tolliver, kicker Brandon Purdy, linebacker Soane Vaohea, linebacker/end Jed Nagler, defensive tackle Cole Rosling (transferred to Montana Tech), defensive lineman Garrison Poetzl, offensive lineman Dumitru Salagor, center Conor Quick and wide receiver Nick Germer.
Perhaps the most noticeable element of the roster, particularly when taking a closer look at the first 50 numbers for the Grizzlies, is the absence of a No. 37.
Since Kraig Paulson gave the famed jersey to Tim Hauck before the 1987 season, the No. 37 jersey has been steeped in tradition. And the player who wears it — he must be a Montana native — has had to shoulder the expectations of carrying on the legacy of the Griz who came before them.
Jesse Sims, a hulking and humble defensive tackle out of Stevensville, wore the jersey each of the last two seasons. He has not passed it on as of yet — or at least a successor has not been announced — but Lewis, a native of Townsend, is a likely leading candidate.
MONTANA’S NO. 37 JERSEY
|Jesse Sims||Defensive tackle||2018-19||Stevensville|
|Tucker Schye||Defensive End||2017||Malta|
|Caleb Kidder||Defensive End||2015-16||Helena|
|Zack Wagenmann||Defensive End||2014||Missoula|
|Ryan Featherston||Defensive End||2011||East Helena|
|Carson Bender||Defensive Tackle||2008-10||Deer Lodge|
|Loren Utterback||Linebacker||2004-07||Fort Benton|
|Ciche Pitcher||Defensive End||2001-03||Anaconda|
|Andy Petek||Defensive End||1998-00||Helena|
|Tim Hauck||Safety||1987-89||Big Timber|
Here’s an update on the rest of Montana current roster and the differences from last season. Numbers with no changes are not included but stay tuned for a “Griz by the Numbers” podcast with analysis of every Montana player.
For reference, no weight of any current player has been updated from last season to this season on the Griz online roster.
GRIZ BY THE NUMBERS – No. 1 through No. 50
No. 3 — Trajon Cotton, a 6-foot-1, 187-pound transfer from Oregon State, has spent most of his prep and college career playing safety. At Montana, he will move to corner. He signed with OSU out of Inderkum High in Sacramento but battled injuries during his three years in Corvallis. He earned a year of eligibility back this off-season, meaning he’ll take the field as a redshirt sophomore.
No. 5 — Kyle Rygol, a quarterback transfer from South Florida who will make Montana his fourth college stop after graduating from Nation Ford High in Fort Mill, South Carolina. He started his career at North Greenville University in North Carolina and played the 2018 season at ASA College Brooklyn, where he redshirted. He made five appearances last season at USF, completing 12 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns. He is the first player ever from South Carolina to play for the Grizzlies.
No. 7 — Omar Hicks-Onu, a fifth-year senior transfer from Oregon State. The product of Texas powerhouse Hebron High (in Carrollton right outside of Dallas) will, like Cotton, make the switch from safety to cornerback to help fortify a position that lost Nash and graduated two-year starter Justin Calhoun. Hicks-Onu redshirted at OSU in 2015 before playing in 12 games in 2016 and 2017, starting twice during his third year. In 2018, he suffered an injury that cost him the entire season and last year, he rebounded to make 28 tackles.
No. 8 – Corbin Walker, a 5-foot-11, 165-pounder who was arguably Montana’s most talented rookie on defense a year ago, saw action in 10 games last season, so he is a sophomore this year.
No. 10 — Robbie Patterson, a 5-foot-11, 200-pounder, is the second quarterback in as many classes brought in by Hauck out of Saddleback JC, one of the top junior college programs in California. Patterson, who threw for 2,575 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2018 before missing last season because of injury, enters his first year at Montana as a redshirt sophomore. Cam Humphrey, a fifth-year senior expected to start under center this season for the Griz, came to UM from Saddleback before the 2018 season.
No. 11 — Cole Grossman, a 6-foot-4, 220-pounder who came to Montana as a standout wide receiver out of Skyview High in Vancouver, Washington just over the bridge from Portland, ran with the No. 1 defense at outside linebacker for a good portion of spring drills in 2019. He was a gray-shirt leading up to that so he didn’t get any action on scout team or otherwise in the fall of 2018. Last fall, he continued playing outside linebacker but the most recent spring, Grossman moved back to tight end. The UM football website says he is “expected to feature heavily in the TE rotation this fall.”
No. 13 — Ryder Meyer, a 5-foot-9, 170-pound safety from Fairfield, redshirted last season and moves from No. 30 to No. 13 for the upcoming season.
No. 14 — Michael McGinnis, a 6-foot-3, 208-pound safety, is still on the team. It was reported by several outlets that McGinnis would take a professional opportunity that would require him leaving the UM program. Instead, the fourth-year junior from Sidney will be expected to contribute heavily on special teams and battle for time in the safety rotation.
No. 20 — Gavin Crow, a 6-foot-1, 216-pound fifth-year senior, has switched positions from safety to linebacker. The native of Kennewick, Washington has his season ended by a gruesome leg injury while covering a kickoff last fall.
No. 21 — Marcus Knight, a 6-foot-1, 194-pound running back, is spending his spring occasionally practicing with the UM lacrosse team. Coming out of high school in San Juan Capistrano, California, Knight was a Division I prospect in the sport. He has already turned heads playing for UM’s nationally competitive club lacrosse team.
Last fall for the UM football team, Knight has arguably one of the greatest debut seasons in Big Sky Conference history, setting UM single-season records with 23 rushing touchdowns and 25 total touchdowns.
No. 21 — Justin Ford, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound cornerback, joins the Griz after spending last season at Louisville. The native of Concord, North Carolina spent 2017 and 2018 at Golden West College in California, where he earned all-conference honors a 3-star recruiting rating.
No. 24 — Elias DeWaters, a 5-foot-10, 172-pound redshirt freshman is playing running back again. The Missoula Sentinel product was a standout at the position in high school before spending last season trying his hand at defensive back. He also used to wear No. 29.
No. 26 — Trevin Gradney, a 6-foot, 180-pound former track star out of Billings West, will wear No. 26 this season after the cornerback wore No. 27 last year.
No. 28 — Hunter Allen is a 6-foot, 190-pound cornerback from San Diego who spent the last two seasons at San Diego Mesa junior college. He joins the Griz as a walk-on.
No. 29 — Ryan Ressler has gotten almost no publicity for joining the Griz roster. The 5-foot-10, 160-pound cornerback from Fort Collins, Colorado walked on to Montana before the spring of 2019.
No. 36 — Levi Janacarro was one of the best players in Class AA in Montana during his senior year as a bruising run-heavy quarterback at Missoula Big Sky, where he rushed for nearly 2,000 yards and scored 29 rushing touchdowns as a senior in 2017. He spent his first two years at Montana as a fullback but switched to linebacker in the spring. The 6-foot, 230-pounder will be in the mix at linebacker and on special teams moving forward.
No. 26 — Nick Ostmo, a 6-foot, 220-pound running back, was a breakout contributor last season as a true freshman, rushing for 321 yards and two touchdowns while wearing No. 38.
No. 47 — Jack Cooper started his career as a walk-on at Ole Miss in 2017. He spent two seasons in Oxford before the kicker transferred to Fresno City College for the 2019 campaign. The native of Fresno walked on to Montana in the spring. He was 6-of-9 on field goal attempts and hit 26 of 32 PATs last season.
No. 48 — Max Gardiner is a 6-foot-4, 190-pound wide receiver who spent the last two years playing J.V. baseball at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon. Gardiner, who prepped at Eastlake High in Sammamish, Washington, walked on to the Griz.
No. 50 — When he first came to Montana, Johnny Granston’s name was Johnny Barthels. Now the 6-foot-5, 265-pound offensive tackle goes by Johnny Granston going into his redshirt freshman year.
No. 57 — A.J. Forbes is a 6-foot-4, 310-pound interior offensive lineman who spent the last two seasons as a walk-on at Nebraska. He was on the two-deep last season for the Cornhuskers as a redshirt freshman.
No. 89 — Most of Montana’s roster numbers between 60 and 88 are taken by offensive linemen and tight ends, huge priorities in recruiting and development since Hauck’s return leading up to the 2018 season. And those ranks are steady.
No. 89 is worn by Noah Ambuehl, a 6-foot-3, 248-pounder out of Great Falls, came to UM as a tight end. He is now a defensive tackle entering his redshirt freshman year.
No. 90 — Justin Belknap is a 6-foot-3, 245-pound outside linebacker/defensive end who comes to Montana as a graduate transfer from Arizona. Belknap started 25 games and played in 38 for the Wildcats, logging 54 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. Belknap prepped at Coronado High outside of Vegas alongside UM junior safety Robby Hauck.
No. 92 — Jacob McGourin is a 6-foot-5, 236-pound defensive end who rolled up three sacks as a true freshman. Despite playing in four games, he still earned a redshirt and has four years of eligibility remaining.
No. 94 — Noah Kaschmitter is a 6-foot-3, 225-pound linebacker from Grangeville, Idaho who took a gray shirt last season and joined the Griz in January.
3 – Carson Rostad, quarterback
9 — Drew Deck, wide receiver
11 — Gabe Longin, safety
12 — Rishi Daniels, safety
13 — Xavier Harris, running back
16 — Aaron Fontes, wide receiver
20 — Guido Ossello, wide receiver
23 — Autjoe Soe, cornerback
25 — Jaxon Lee, running back
30 — Kevin Armstread, running back
33 — Asher Croy, linebacker
39 — Levi Crum, safety
45 — Chase Johansen, linebacker
46 — Micah Ashton, tight end
62 — Aaron Good, offensive line
74 — Kukila Lincoln, offensive line
82 — Carver Gillman, kicker
83 — Matt Simkins, tight end
88 — Erik Barker, tight end
96 — Henry Nuce, defensive end
98 — Journey Grimsrud, defensive line