Park City, UT (Sports Network) - New Montana football coach Mick Delaney isn't
planning to open training camp next month with a special speech next about the
Grizzlies' need to keep working toward overcoming a messy offseason.
"In all honestly, they'll probably tell me," he said. "It's amazing. Young men
are more resilient than coaches are. They've already taken that step."
The dark cloud over the UM program this offseason hasn't lifted completely -
there may even be more bad news on the horizon - but the Grizzlies have been
trying to restore order after a series of player arrests, some involving
alleged sexual assaults, led to the March firings of head coach Robin Pflugrad
and athletic director Jim O'Day.
The highly respected Delaney, a former Montana assistant coach whom the
university brought out of a brief retirement to guide the Grizzlies, isn't
hiding from all the bad news.
Besides, he also knows there's probably good news sitting out there for his
Football season is fast approaching, and the Grizzlies expect to get back to
their winning ways, which is reflected in their being selected third in the
Big Sky Conference preseason head coaches and media polls on Tuesday at their
Summer Kickoff meetings.
Montana shared Big Sky title with arch-rival Montana State. The Bobcats earned
the preseason favorite's role, having already gained the most preseason all-
conference selections - six - on Sunday. Eastern Washington was picked second
in both polls.
Montana went on to reach the FCS national semifinals in an 11-3 season last
year, but the many offseason issues still linger, and figure to even after the
Grizzlies kick off their season on Sept. 1 against South Dakota. The NCAA and
the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education are investigating
Montana and how the university responded to the alleged sexual assaults.
"It's there every day, almost no matter where you're at or what you're doing
that is associated with Montana football or even the community of Missoula or
the University of Montana, whether it is football or not," Delaney said. "It
is a question that is out there every day and you answer honestly and as
factually as you can."
The Montana players are providing the kind solutions that will move their
season forward. Jarred from all the hits this offseason, the upperclassmen
have been steadfast in getting the program back on track. They have publicly
made the team accountable to a higher level of conduct, similar to the higher
standard set on the field by past Grizzlies' teams.
"I would say, in all honesty, the first month was pretty rough for us, just
kind of figuring out how as a team, as one unit, being a family, how we were
going to handle it," said tight end Greg Hardy, an All-America candidate. "As
a senior, and along with a lot of other guys, we just called a team meeting,
got together (and said), 'Hey, fellas, we all know it kind of feels like us
against everyone. Instead of us, say, breaking up, let's come together.'
"There's going to be some stuff coming out I'm sure still that could shake the
team. But I feel pretty confident in our abilities as a team to stay together,
pull together and play harder for each other maybe than you've ever seen this
This season, Montana's offense should be outstanding again. The Grizzlies
return a strong line led by tackle Danny Kistler - all 6-foot-8, 315 pounds of
him - to set up a running game that features quarterback Jordan Johnson, Peter
Nguyen, Jordan Canada and Dan Moore. Those four combined for 2,351 yards and
23 touchdowns on the ground last season.
Jordan was accused of sexual assault but not charged this offseason,
The defense lost nine starters, but Delaney foresees a group of players who
have performed on special teams or been redshirted to mature into key roles.
Plus the Grizzlies get back linebacker Jordan Tripp, who missed much of last
season with a shoulder injury, to join John Kanongata'a on one of the nation's
best linebackers units.
Sure, there will be some growing pains. But Montana faced some last season as
well before it shifted into higher gear and rolled through a nine-game
winning streak in October, November and early December, ultimately losing to
Sam Houston State in the national semifinals.
"I'd say the expectations in Missoula, Montana, and with the Griz," Hardy
said, "is to win lots of games, be Big Sky champs and be a national
championship contender. Will that happen? I don't know. I just know we have a
group of a hundred guys who are going to work very hard, gonna do what Coach
Delany wants us to."
"I think the reason we're able to move on," Delaney said, "is tradition, is
the type of young men that we have at the University of Montana, the student-
athletes that are there. I think that is what is probably the most rewarding
thing to us as coaches - is to see these young men put the distractions aside.
"Our kids are positive young men. They want to do the right thing the right
way. They're working for it every single minute of every day, I think. I'm
just so encouraged by that and so are the coaches."
As for Montana's chief rival, Montana State, it came as no surprise that the
Bobcats were selected first in both Big Sky preseason polls. The Bobcats have
earned a share of the last two titles with a 7-1 conference record in each
"I'm complimented by it," Montana State coach Rob Ash said. "I'm excited that
we've gotten some respect from the rest of the teams in the league, but it
doesn't mean anything about how the season is going to turn out. Preseason
polls are always more of a past performance than future performance in my
The two polls were comparable with the exception of North Dakota, which was
picked sixth in the media poll but only 10th in the coaches poll.
BIG SKY FOOTBALL PRESEASON POLLS
1. Montana State (7 first-place votes), 136 points
2. Eastern Washington (4), 131
3. Montana (1), 126
4. Portland State, 90
5. Cal Poly, 86
6. Weber State, 81
7. Northern Arizona, 75
8. Southern Utah (1), 74
9. Sacramento State, 71
10. North Dakota, 68
11. Idaho State, 31
12. UC Davis, 30
13. Northern Colorado, 14
1. Montana State (30), 502
2. Eastern Washington (3), 453
3. Montana (5), 442
4. Portland State, 334
5. Cal Poly (1), 323
6. North Dakota, 295
7. Weber State (1), 284
8. Southern Utah, 258
9. Northern Arizona, 242
10. Sacramento State, 191
11. UC Davis, 135
12. Idaho State, 115
13. Northern Colorado, 63
PRESEASON ALL-BIG SKY TEAM
Offensive MVP - Brad Sorensen, Sr., QB, Southern Utah
Defensive MVP - Jody Owens, Sr., LB, Montana State
QB - Brad Sorensen, Sr., Southern Utah
RB - Zach Bauman, Jr., Northern Arizona
RB - Cody Kirk, Jr., Montana State
FB - Tevia Tolutau, So., Weber State
OL - Zach Brackus, Sr., Southern Utah
OL - Tytan Timoteo, Sr., Weber State
C - Ray Wilburn, Sr., UC Davis
OL - Danny Kistler, Jr., Montana
OL - Will Post, Sr., Eastern Washington
TE - Greg Hardy, Sr., Montana
WR - Nicholas Edwards, Sr., Eastern Washington
WR - Rodrick Rumble, Sr. Idaho State
WR - Greg Hardin, Sr., North Dakota
WR - Brandon Kaufman, Jr., Eastern Washington
DE - Brad Daly, Jr., Montana State
DE - Bobby Erskine, Sr., UC Davis
DT - Zach Minter, Sr., Montana State
DT - Cody Larsen, Sr., Southern Utah
LB - Jody Owens, Sr., Montana State
LB - Ian Sluss, Sr., Portland State
LB - Kennith Jackson, Sr., Cal Poly
LB - Clarence Bumpas, Jr., Northern Colorado
LB - Todd Davis, Jr., Sacramento State
CB - T.J. Lee III, Jr., Eastern Washington
CB - Darius Jones, Sr., Montana State
S - Kevyn Lewis, Sr., UC Davis
S - Joel Fuller, Sr., Montana State
PK - Zach Brown, Sr., Portland State
P - Colton Schmidt, Sr., UC Davis
Return - Dominic Gunn, Sr., Northern Colorado
ST - Nevin Lewis, Sr., Portland State
The Sports Network