GRIZ GRIT: Ready for Some Football?

By Beacon Staff

Much to my chagrin, lazy lake days are once again hastening away. And, as I sit at my desk overlooking Flathead Lake watching the hummingbirds argue over spouts on my feeder, I’m actually getting excited about the start of football season.

But perhaps the countdown should last a little longer.

Now I know to the throngs of Grizzly fans who look for any kind of football fix in the months leading up to fall camp, that sounds like heresy.

But I deeply value the solitude here in the woods south of Polson and, until just last night, haven’t really given much thought to what fortunes await the most successful program in the Football Championship Subdivision in the last decade.

But with a visit from my 12-year game collaborator Scott Gurnsey, my signing of a new one-year contract with Learfield Sports and a short telephone conversation with head coach Robin Pflugrad, I decided, after a mere 25 trips, that my boat days were winding down. And it’s time to at least take a look at the wheels of Griz football even if they’re not coming off the resting blocks for about three more weeks.

After winning 80 games in the last seven years under former head coash Bobby Hauck, a new era has begun under Pflugrad and he and his staff face a daunting task indeed.

While both the media and coaches favor Montana to win its 13th straight conference championship and national prognosticators – mostly on the basis of reputation of course – place the Grizzlies solidly in the top five in pre-season polls, just nine starters return from last year’s second successive national runner-up.

And, not to overlook the opener against Western State College of Colorado, two of the first three conference games are on the road (Eastern Washington and Cal Poly).

Of course, the Grizzlies return one of the best backs in the country in Chase Reynolds, who joins quarterback Andrew Selle on the pre-season Walter Payton watch list, but a couple of go-to receivers need to surface quickly to augment Jabin Sambrano and Sam Gratton.

And an offensive line decimated by the departure of three all-league picks also will be required to quickly function well and, while tight ends Dan Beaudin and Steve Pfahler are gone, Greg Hardy and Rob Overton both are capable yet mostly untested.

All-American candidate Trumaine Johnson, on the Buck Buchanan watch list, leads a defensive unit that returns five starters, but Jimmy Wilson’s presence and expected leadership and the unpredictable game plans of coordinator Mike Breske may provide the surprise of the season.

And the kicking game again will be solid with Brody McKnight and Sean Wren, but where I see the unknowns are in the subtleties of leadership and special teams.

The possibilities are endless and always being a half-glass full kind of guy, I remain optimistic. But you don’t immediately replace a Marc Mariani or a Shann Schillinger or the remainder of the most successful five-year group in the history of the UM program.

There’s also the additional unknown factor of cohesiveness.

There are as many new players who will be expected to immediately contribute as there have been in several years. How quickly they adapt and become a team that realizes it’s the name on the front of the jersey that’s most important will determine their successes.

I have little doubt, however, with the leadership of Pflugrad and his staff, a continuation of good things looms solidly on the horizon for Griz football.