MISSOULA — Last year, running back was arguably the most snake-bit position for the Montana Grizzlies, and at one point UM had to start fifth- and sixth-string true freshmen.
But coming into this season, running back might be one of the deepest positions on this year's roster.
When Montana's top two running back options in Marcus Knight and Nick Ostmo got hurt before the 2021 season started, the Grizzlies were depleted without much experience in the backfield.
Freshmen like Xavier Harris and Isiah Childs were tasked with carrying the load out of the gates, with Harris breaking out and leading the team in rushing with 666 yards on 151 carries and two touchdowns.
"We missed Marcus, we missed Nick," Harris said. "Coming in as a freshman, I was watching Marcus play the 2019 season and I was really excited to get an offer from here so I could play in that same running back room as him and Nick. And they went down last year so I didn't get the chance but now we're all back healthy and we get to show the world what we're about."
But as injuries continued to plague UM's backfield, the Griz converted freshman Junior Bergen from wide receiver to running back, while fellow freshman Colter Janacaro also saw some snaps. Bergen finished the season with 498 yards rushing on 118 carries and four touchdowns.
While Bergen is back at wide receiver, the Grizzlies bring Harris, Childs (55 carries, 207 yards, three touchdowns) and Janacaro back while getting boosted with Knight and Ostmo back from injury.
So experience is now deep in UM's running backs room.
"I like the group a lot. There's kind of a spot for everybody. Like as far as skill-wise," said Knight, who was an All-American in 2019 for Montana. "Everyone has a different kind of niche in the room and it's just great to be able to sub out and someone else can come out and do it and you don't have to run back in immediately. It's going to be a lot of fun, I've never really been in a running back room where there's other guys that can do it so it's going to be very interesting."
From scat backs, to power backs, to overall athletes, UM now has an arsenal of weapons in the backfield to choose from.
"To be able to play running back you have to be able to catch, you have to be able to carry the ball and you have to be able to block," Griz head coach Bobby Hauck said. "It's a physical position, you're going to be in a collision a lot of the time unless you're out in a route and they aren't throwing it to you, then maybe not, but you have to be able to do a lot of things to play running back and our guys are good athletes."
"It puts the defense in shambles," Harris added. "They're not going to know what to do, you've got four different styles of running. You have to know which running back is back there and how to tackle us and just hope you can contain us."
The competition is high at running back, but there's one goal this group wants to achieve when the season arrives to avoid last year's troubles.
"Stay healthy, stay healthy, get our protection right, and really just stay healthy, that's really our main focus right now," Harris said.
Griz running backs on the 2022 roster by number
No. 10, Eli Gillman, FR, 6-foot-0, 200 pounds, Dassel, MN
No. 13, Xavier Harris, SO, 5-foot-10, 182 pounds, Oxnard, CA
No. 21, Marcus Knight, R-JR, 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, San Juan Capistrano, CA
No. 26, Nick Ostmo, R-SO, 6-foot-0, 218 pounds, Portland, OR
No. 28, Isiah Childs, SO, 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, Manhattan, KS
No. 30, Colter Janacaro, R-FR, 5-foot-11, 214 pounds, Missoula, MT