There is nothing that can get a play-by-play guy scrambling in the booth like the game against Western State College of Colorado.
While there were the usual amount of technical, physical and personal goof-ups that always occur in the first game, if the opener was any indication of what lies ahead, this season is going to be extremely enjoyable.
Now I’m not talking about the promise of excellence with this group, which certainly will have to go a ways to reach the level of last season’s overachievers.
What I am talking about is the contingent of new players who made their impact felt – some in the absence of injured or disciplined players – but mostly a group of student athletes who were rewarded for their hard work on the practice field.
Such an influx sent the broadcast crew quickly to the roster, hoping their name is Smith or Jones for pronunciation sake.
Fortunately for me, football players have far easier names to pronounce than your average hoops team, which are often sprinkled with a challenging foreign influence.
High on that list of newbies was Kalispell’s own Josh Harris, a defensive end who redshirted last season after a stellar career at Flathead High School, where he earned eight letters and was academic all-state twice.
He’s added about 30 pounds to his 6 foot 5 inch frame, now spreading 240 across his No. 96 jersey, and had an outstanding off-season in the weight room.
The hard work paid dividends against Western State, his initial Griz action, as he was credited with four tackles, tied for third most behind veterans Shawn Lebsock and Eric Stoll.
His quick ascent to the field should come as no surprise since he arrived highly heralded. His dad, Greg, ran a 4.75 while weighing 250 and was described by Hall of Fame Coach Jack Swarthout as “probably the most aggressive hitter in university football history,” when he played in the middle of a 50-front defensive line in the mid-70s with guys like Doug Betters.
Of the 47 or so who played against Western State, there were 11 new starters, six of whom were on defense where at one time late in the game there were four freshmen on the field.
Probably as significant were the number of in-state youngsters who played.
I counted 13 of 22 starters and an additional nine reserves who prepped in the Treasure State, which makes a strong argument for Bobby Hauck’s recruiting philosophy of attracting the best in-state talent and filling in the remainder of the squad from elsewhere.
Equally impressive as the in-state numbers is the size of the high schools many these players attended. As one would expect at this level of collegiate football, there are myriad of athletes from the state’s largest (AA) high schools, but check the roster from the state’s smaller schools.
There is, of course, the Reynolds’ boys (Chase and Tel) and Alex Verlanic of Drummond; Noxon (Dan Beaudin); Baker (Shann Schillinger); Loyola (Tim Anderson); Deer Lodge (Carson Bender); Dillon (Chris Dyk and Bryce Carver); Fairview (Greg Hardy); Sidney (Terran Hillesland); Cut Bank (Jeff Larson); Havre (Mark Mariani); Libby (George Mercer); Frenchtown (Steve Phafler); and Huntley Project (Bryan Waldhauser).
The roster furthers the argument that when competing at the FCS level, a school can be successful recruiting in-state players, who grow up in many cases – like Harris for example – engrained with Grizzly lineage and tradition.
Being ranked in the Top 25 for the last 151 weeks since 1993, and winning 11 consecutive Big Sky Conference titles, leaves me with the impression that while the formula is forever being tweaked, it’s a proven commodity.
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