Expectations are high for the 2021 Montana Grizzlies. This is a veteran, deep football team. There are five players on the all-Big Sky preseason team and five named to Stats Perform’s preseason all-American team.
Here’s what we learned in our Q&A:
UWDP: Redshirt senior Cam Humphrey from Issaquah started both of Montana’s games in the spring, and will start Saturday. What do you think gave Humphrey the edge over Kris Brown in coach Bobby Hauck’s eyes?
Kyle Hansen: The biggest advantage for Cam Humphrey is his consistency and experience. He started in three games in Montana’s 2019 playoff run and both spring contests. Brown looks the part and has a bright future ahead with Montana, but Humphrey from the start has been the most ready to go. It’s a feel-good moment for him too because he’s been waiting a long time for this chance after 2020 was postponed (and eventually canceled) and now he gets to start the regular season just down the road from where he grew up.
UWDP: The Grizzlies lost All-American running back Marcus Knight to injury in the spring. Tell us about the running styles of Nick Ostmo and Xavier Harris, and how they might share the workload?
Kyle: Ostmo is more of a power back while Harris is shifty and fast. Montana released its two-deep on Monday and Ostmo was absent from the chart, with Hauck saying the running backs were “banged up” though he didn’t specify more. Ostmo brings a lot of experience back as Knight did, so losing the two of them would hurt. Harris looked good in the spring, and he’ll be back up by Isiah Childs who transferred to Montana from Akron, but running back will be a position to watch with Montana’s top two producers likely out for the foreseeable future.
UWDP: The offensive line returns everyone, and has some new additions as well. Is this an area of strength for the Montana team?
Kyle: I personally think offensive line is one of this team’s biggest strengths because of that depth. When Hauck first got here in 2018, injuries had that position group depleted. Now, it feels like their starting five are strong with the backups able to shift around to multiple spots and add depth. The majority of the group has suited up together since 2019 so the chemistry is there and I think this group ranks among one of the better o-lines in the Big Sky Conference.
UWDP: The Griz feature an NFL talent at wide receiver in Samuel Akem. Akem goes into his senior year with 2,022 receiving yards on 142 receptions and 22 TDs. Tell us about him. Who else is a threat to catch the ball? Will the tight ends be utilized?
Kyle: Akem broke out in 2018 and proved to be a playmaker anywhere on the field. Injury cut his 2019 short, so it has been a long time since he’s gotten a full season to showcase his talent. He’s big, athletic and fast, and opposite Samori Toure (who has since transferred to Nebraska) the duo were among the best in FCS football in 2019. He looked like he hadn’t lost a step in Montana’s two spring games and I think he’s poised for a big year and if he has one, he could rewrite a number of school records at UM. As far as the rest of the receiver room, Mitch Roberts on the outside and Gabe Sulser in the slot come back with a lot of experience. Roberts was a suitable backup who was thrown into starter’s minutes in 2019 after Akem’s injury while Sulser was a dynamic playmaker as a freshman in 2018 before injury also ended his 2019 campaign. Receiver is another deep position for Montana, with guys like Malik Flowers, Keelan White and Ryan Simpson all expected to make an impact at that group. Sulser’s spring especially was eye-opening as he made plays left and right both at receiver and at punt and kick return. Tight end, meanwhile, might be one of the most inexperienced groups on the team. They lost a key starter in Bryson Deming to transfer after graduation in the spring while Matt Rensvold, who also has multiple years of experience, has been plagued by injury. Cole Grossman, who hails from Vancouver, Washington, has looked the part in fall camp and the coaching staff expects big things from him.
UWDP: Who stands out for Montana’s defense? Where are they the strongest overall, and who are some names to know for Saturday?
Kyle: The defense as a unit is strong at Montana. They looked sharp in the spring and picked up where they left off through the first few weeks of fall camp. Linebacker appears to be their deepest position as far as experience, but the secondary and defensive line have also made strides or filled holes left by graduation. Jace Lewis at linebacker and Robby Hauck at safety return as leaders, tackling machines and preseason All-Big Sky players. Linebacker Patrick O’Connell was the team’s sack leader in 2019 while nose tackle Alex Gubner — and this is true — led the team with four interceptions in 2019. Oregon State transfer Omar Hicks Onu appears poised to have a big year for the Griz at cornerback as well.
UWDP: Any key injuries or Covid19 issues for the Griz?
Kyle: As of now Marcus Knight’s injury is the main one that occurred in the spring. Most expect him to miss the entirety of the fall too. With Ostmo also probably out due to injury, that would be another blow to UM’s offense and specifically that position group. Otherwise, the team returns healthy from the spring and hasn’t had any other setbacks to my knowledge.
UWDP: What is your prediction for Saturday?
Kyle: In 2019 Montana played Oregon when the Ducks were ranked No. 15 in the FBS and led by Justin Herbert. UM lost 35-3, so I’d expect a similar outcome. The Griz defense looks good and could make some plays, but Washington also has made a name for producing some incredible NFL talent on defense. At the end of the day, the Griz are getting paid $675,000 to play this game, and they lost to UW in 2017 by a score of 63-7. They want to win, sure, but giving a better showing than 2017 and leaving Seattle healthy is more important for UM’s long-term goals.
UWDP: Thanks Kyle. For more on the Grizzlies, check out MontanaSports.com.