MISSOULA — March has just begun and winter isn't quite over, but earlier Wednesday afternoon the Montana football team officially kicked off spring ball over at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
Wednesday marked the first of 15 practices the Grizzlies will hold in this spring football session and it will conclude on Friday, April 8 with the Spring Game which will be held at Hamilton High School.
Montana returns a number of key starters this upcoming season on both sides of the ball from a team that went 10-3 in 2021 and advanced to the quarterfinal round of the FCS playoffs. Buck Buchanan finalist and linebacker Patrick O'Connell is among those returning along with cornerback Justin Ford, who led the FCS in interceptions in 2021 with nine. Linebacker Marcus Welnel, safety Robby Hauck and defensive tackle Alex Gubner also return as key starters while UM returners on offense include offensive guard Hunter Mayginnes, center AJ Forbes, wide receivers Mitch Roberts and Malik Flowers and running back Xavier Harris. Breakout stars from 2021 like receiver turned running back Junior Bergen and tight end Cole Grossman are also back.
Other players who saw big minutes in 2021 include safeties TraJon Cotton, Nash Fouch and Garrett Graves as well as Eli Alford and Deari Todd on the defensive line.
But spring is a time where position battles really begin, and head coach Bobby Hauck expects a competitive month from his team as they begin to form what will be the 2022 Grizzly football team come this fall.
"It's part of developing the team. We don't play until September but everyday is valuable. We only get 15 in the spring so they all matter," Hauck said. "I think if you compound that with the fact that we have a really young team, these are big days for us. We've got to get ourselves ready and I told our team I think once the New Year turns, we're on a clock and it's a countdown clock to the first game and we've got to be ready."
At the forefront of those battles in the spring will be the quarterback battle. With the graduation of Cam Humphrey, the Grizzlies will be looking for a new signal-caller come fall. Montana added San Diego State graduate transfer quarterback Lucas Johnson who is one of the front-runners for the job. Sophomore Kris Brown, who was Humphrey's primary backup last year, junior Robbie Patterson, redshirt freshman Daniel Britt and incoming true freshman Kaden Huot all round out the QB room as the competition is set to ramp up this spring heading into the fall.
Johnson, along with 10 others, was made official on signing day. The Grizzlies also signed 12 true freshmen during the early signing period.
Another interesting position group to watch will be offensive line, as Montana lost three starters from last year's team.
In a media release prior to spring ball beginning, Montana noted that it will also add All-American running back Marcus Knight back after he missed spring and fall of 2021 with injury after a breakout 2019 season. Starting slot receiver Gabe Sulser is also expected back after being lost for the season after an injury against Eastern Washington on Oct. 2 while other running back Nick Ostmo also expects to see limited time in the spring as he too makes a return from injury.