FARMINGTON, Utah -- Expectations continue to rise for Jace Lewis.
The Townsend native and University of Montana linebacker was voted the Big Sky Conference's preseason defensive MVP, the league announced during its Virtual Kickoff on Friday. Eastern Washington quarterback Eric Barriere was voted the preseason offensive MVP.
Lewis earned first-team all-conference honors last season when he registered 131 tackles, including 65 solo stops and 12 tackles-for-loss. Lewis will be tasked with helping the Griz defense replace Dante Olson, last year's league defensive MVP and the Buck Buchanan Award winner. In addition to his preseason MVP nod, Lewis was one of six Grizzlies named to the preseason all-conference team on Friday.
"Coming from a small town, you always dream of coming here, making a name for yourself, and representing the town you came from," Lewis said in a Montana media release. "So, that's been the coolest part. I have great players and great coaches around me too. When he got here, I don't think I was that good, but Coach (Kent) Baer pushed me and saw something in me, and I have to thank him for making me the player I am. I'm very thankful for that."
"Jace has done a nice job, first of all, working his way into the lineup, and now working his way into being a marquee player on our team. He's got great playmaking ability. Those guys in front of him are getting better and better, and I think that will help him continue his path to being a major playmaker for the Montana Grizzlies," said UM coach Bobby Hauck.
Joining Lewis on the preseason all-conference team are receivers Samuel Akem and Samori Toure, offensive lineman Conlan Beaver, kick returner Malik Flowers and safety Robby Hauck.
Barriere, who was a third-team all-conference selection last season, finished second in the FCS in total offense in 2019 with an average of 355.8 yards per game. He closed his junior season with six games of 300 or more passing yards and completed 239 passes without an interception, setting the school’s single-season record for interceptions-to-attempts ratio.
Weber State, the preseason favorite in both the coaches and media polls, placed a league-high eight players on the preseason all-conference team. Montana and Sacramento State each placed six players on the preseason all-conference team, followed by UC Davis with three and five teams, including Montana State, with two each. Offensive lineman Lewis Kidd, a unanimous selection, and Taylor Tuiasosopo were selected for the Bobcats.
Other unanimous preseason all-conference selections were offensive lineman Ty Whitworth of Weber State and defensive back Anthony Adams of Portland State.
Of the 33-member preseason all-conference team, 15 players earned first-team all-conference honors in 2019: Lewis, Toure, Whitworth, Adams, Sacramento State wide receiver Pierre Williams, Weber State running back Josh Davis, Sacramento State running back Elijah Dotson, Weber State fullback Clay Moss, Northern Arizona kicker Luis Aguilar, Weber State defensive tackle Jared Schiess, Idaho outside linebacker Christian Elliss, Sacramento State defensive back Daron Bland, UC Davis defensive back Devon King, Northern Arizona punter DJ Arnson, and Portland State special teams player Emmanuel Daigbe.
The complete preseason all-conference teams are below.
2020 Big Sky Football Preseason All-Conference Team
QB: Eric Barriere, Eastern Washington
WR: Samuel Akem, Montana
WR: Samori Toure, Montana
WR: Pierre Williams, Sacramento State
OL: Conlan Beaver, Montana
OL: Ben Bos, Weber State
OL: Lewis Kidd, Montana State*
OL: Tristen Taylor, Eastern Washington
OL: Taylor Tuiasosopo, Montana State
OL: Ty Whitworth, Weber State*
TE: Marshel Martin, Sacramento State
RB: Josh Davis, Weber State
RB: Elijah Dotson, Sacramento State
FB: Clay Moss, Weber State
AP: BJ Perkinson, Sacramento State
K: Luis Aguilar, Northern Arizona
PR: Rashid Shaheed, Weber State
KR: Malik Flowers, Montana
DT: Bryce Rodgers, UC Davis
DT: Jared Scheiss, Weber State
DE: Josiah Erickson, Sacramento State
DE: George Tarlas, Weber State
OLB: Nick Eaton, UC Davis
OLB: Christian Elliss, Idaho
ILB: Jace Lewis, Montana
ILB: Tre Walker, Idaho
DB: Anthony Adams, Portland State*
DB: Daron Bland, Sacramento State
DB: Robby Hauck, Montana
DB: Eddie Heckard, Weber State
DB: Devon King, UC Davis
P: DJ Arnson, Northern Arizona
ST: Emmanuel Daigbe, Portland State
* Denotes unanimous selection