MISSOULA — The University of Montana football team starts its preparation for the 2013 football season on Sunday, Aug. 4, as the Grizzlies welcome their returning players and newcomers to fall camp.
All players are slated to report on Sunday, with the first practice scheduled (a complete fall camp schedule for the month of August is included in this release in a PDF format) for Tuesday, Aug. 6 in UM’s Washington-Grizzly Stadium. The team has one-a-day practices Tuesday-through Saturday, August 6-10, from approximately 2 to 4:30 p.m.
The first two-a-day practice is on Sunday, Aug.11, with the first session going from 8:30-10:30 a.m., and the second slated for 7:45 p.m. to around 10 p.m. Fall camp practice sessions go from August 6-24 and are closed to the public. Classes at UM start on Monday, Aug. 26.
UM’s three fall camp scrimmages are scheduled for Sunday evening, Aug. 11; Saturday morning, Aug.17; and Thursday morning, Aug. 22, with exact times to be announced.
Second-year Griz head coach Mick Delaney will welcome 90 total players on Sunday, both veterans and newcomers, to fall camp.
The Grizzlies are coming off a 5-6 overall season and went 3-5 league record (tied for eighth), return 19-plus starters and 42 letterman. The Grizzlies adopted the theme “United” for the 2013 season — and they are on a determined mission to get Montana back to one of the elite teams in the FCS — a position which they have occupied for almost the past three decades.
Ten of those starters return from a defense that was second in the nation in sacks (41) and also second in rush defense (92.55 ypg). Last season the Grizzlies struggled with their pass defense, where they allowed 299.26 yards a game and were ranked 120th (out of 121 teams).
“I really, really expect our defense to be outstanding,” Delaney said. “Obviously they haven’t done it on the field as a group yet, but when you look at who we have coming back, plus the younger guys who will provide quality depth, I think our defense could be one of the best in the FCS.”
Leading the way are returning All-Americans Jordan Tripp and Zack Wagenmann, who were both first team all-league selections as well. Other returning starters on “D” are tackles Alex Bienemann and Tonga Takai; linebackers Brock Coyle and John Kanongata’a; cornerbacks Joshua Dennard, Anthony Goodwin and Sean Murray; and safeties Matt Hermanson and Bo Tully.
Despite its six losses last season, Montana led the Big Sky and was ranked 11th in the country in total offense (452.27 ypg) and rushing (235.73 ypg), and tied for 27th in scoring (31.64 ppg).
“I know we are going to be very solid on the offensive side of the football,” Delaney said. “We changed our scheme somewhat, and I think that will benefit the type of players we have. We have great size and depth on the offensive line and will use a two-back set sometimes, or a one-back scheme with two or three tight ends. I think that scheme will help our play-action passing game. I expect our completion percentage to go way up (it was 6.3% last season) because of what we are doing. We won’t go down the field as often, but we will still have a nice package to stretch the field.”
All-America tackler Danny Kistler Jr. heads a group of four returning offensive linemen, which also includes center Kjelby Oiland, guard William Poehls, and tackle Trevor Poole. Also back are wide receivers Ellis Henderson and Mitch Saylor, as well as part-time starters Jordan Canada at running back and Logan Hines at center.
Trent McKinney and Shay Smithwick-Hann shared the starting job at quarterback last season, but former starter Jordan Johnson returns and started in 12 games in 2011. Johnson emerged as the No. 1 signal-caller after spring drills.
Also back are kicker Chris Lider and punter Stephen Shaw, both sophomores. One of UM’s key losses was punt returner/halfback Peter Nguyen, who was ranked among the national leaders in punt returns 18th, 9.88 ypr) and rushing (50th, 84.18 ypg) a year ago and was a four-time all-league pick.
GRIZ GRIDIRON NOTES
— The Grizzlies have had three players named to 2013 preseason All-America teams: Kistler, Tripp, and Wagenmann.
— UM has 11 returning all-league players: Kistler, Tripp and Wagenmann (first team), while Bienemann, Coyle, Hermanson, Kanongata’a, Lider, Murray, Shaw and Takai were honorable mention selections.
— The Griz return 15 academic All-Big Sky honorees: sophomore defensive end Derek Crittenden, sophomore safeties Herbert Gamboa and Zach Gratton, sophomore fullback Gavin Hagfors, sophomore cornerback Nate Harris, sophomore D-linemen Tyrone Holmes and Caleb Kidder, sophomore kicker Chris Lider, sophomore wide receiver Chase Naccarato, junior DT Trevor Rehm, junior quarterback Shay Smithwick-Hann, senior safeties Steven Rominger and Bo Tully, junior DE Zack Wagenmann, and senior wide receiver Cam Warren.
— UM Sports Information