MISSOULA – Fall has arrived on the University of Montana campus. Not only has a cool, rainy Monday welcomed students back to class, but it’s also game week for the football team.
Montana kicks off a new campaign under the lights this Saturday night. The Grizzlies spoke of anxious and excited feelings as the first contest closes in. Most of them remember ending last season with a heartbreaking loss to rival Montana State and missing out on the FCS playoffs. As one player put it, the Grizzlies have been looking forward to this time since leaving the field last November.
Head coach Bobby Hauck is thrilled to be back at his alma mater. He has been waiting even longer.
“It’s been seven years and eight months since I’ve been out there with our guys,” said the coach about his time away from UM. “The thing I remember most is it’s a lot of fun in that stadium.”
“I think the big assumption is you’ll get used to it,” added senior defensive end Reggie Tilleman about playing in Washington-Grizzly Stadium. “But for me it gets better every time we do it. It’s an absolute blast. The best part about it is you get to do it with your teammates. It wouldn’t be as much fun running out there by yourself.”
The Grizzlies last played a football game 283 days ago. The wait for the next five days might feel just as long
The Griz have wrapped up fall camp and have resumed their usual regular-season routine, but they also know they haven’t arrived anywhere yet. There is still work to be done.
“Emotionally we’re just ready to go,” said Tilleman. “We’re ready to get after somebody other than our own offense. (Northern Iowa) is going to be a good team.”
“We try to contain the excitement until Saturday,” said senior wide receiver Keenan Curran. “We have a lot of time on Saturday to be excited. Right now we still have to be diligent in our preparation for Saturday, instead of being excited. Saying it’s game week, yes it’s game week, but we need to still prepare for Saturday.”
A big reason for Curran’s caution is the challenge the Grizzlies face. Even with a huge crowd and a home field advantage, Montana will enter Washington-Grizzly Stadium as the underdog. The 13th-ranked Northern Iowa Panthers come to Missoula to face the 24th-ranked Grizzlies at 7 p.m. Saturday.