MISSOULA — For college football fans, Wednesday just adds to the holiday season.
The early signing period got under way Wednesday morning with high school players across the state sending in their letters of intent to play at the next level.
For the Montana Grizzlies football program, they signed 19 new players to the program, 15 of whom are in-state commits.
But this recruiting season was anything but normal, and head coach Bobby Hauck noted how challenging it was.
“It was a strange year of terms of recruiting,” Hauck said in a Zoom press conference. “It was just different than anything we’ve ever encountered.”
College coaches across the country have been in a recruiting dead period since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Coaches were unable to see or meet kids in person and players could not visit campus.
“That made it difficult. It’s tough to get to know kids, probably impossible, especially guys that aren’t local,” Hauck said. “So it was strange in that regard.”
Another hurdle was the exempt season the NCAA has granted athletes because of the pandemic. Because of that, the freshmen who joined UM this past fall will still be freshmen next year when the 2021 class joins the Griz, making the class around 40 players, double what it was.
Teams needed to work around that and limit just how many additions they made.
“There weren’t a ton of opportunities to recruit kids,” Hauck said. “Our freshman class will be double-sized next year because our current freshmen are freshmen next year as well. There weren’t a ton of scholarship opportunities, there weren’t a ton of walk-on opportunities. Despite all that, I think we did really well with this class. We’re bursting at the seams in our program in terms of number of players, and that’ll be the case next fall. I’m excited to bring this group of kids in, 15 out of 19 being from Montana really fires me up.”
Those challenges were a pressing topic now that Montana, along with other college football programs, works with extra eligibility and the incoming class of players and those numbers.
“I’ve talked to a lot of coaches around the country, there are a lot of people that don’t have a great two-class, 18-month plan right now,” Hauck explained. “They’re kind of just flying by the seat of their pants, which is not necessarily our way.
“Our freshman class next year will probably have close to 40 people in it, which is too many. You can’t have 40 in one class and in the next year have five or something. It’s not healthy for your program. So we’re going to do our best to balance those out. So there’s some strategizing that’s going to continue to go into this and we’re going to try and balance out our classes as best we can.”
Because of that, Hauck said he didn’t expect Montana to sign any more players in the coming days because the roster is “full,” noting that having half the roster be freshmen and the other half the remaining classes is something they want to avoid and ultimately find balance again.
“There’s a lot of good players that want in the door here that we can’t take,” Hauck added. “That’s kind of the nature of being at Montana. The important part is evaluating and getting the right guys. We don’t have a hard time signing a class. You have a limited number and you have to sign the right guys and that’s the case every year.
“Like every year it’s probably exacerbated this year and will be again next year. We’ve told a lot of good players no simply from a math and numbers (perspective). Heck, we don’t have enough lockers for the guys we’ve got.”
Hauck explained that with the new regulations set by the NCAA, FCS football teams have 110 player on the roster, 85 on scholarship with 63 full. Seniors currently on the roster will not count toward those numbers next year.
A highlight of the class was UM signing five players from Class AA state champion Missoula Sentinel, which includes TJ Rausch, Geno Leonard, Soren Syvrud, Jace Klucewich and Camden Sirmon. Along with those five, the Griz also added Missoula Big Sky quarterback/linebacker Colter Janacaro, making it six players opting to stay in town to suit up for UM.
“I can remember years where we had none (from Missoula) or a string of years where we had none, so the football in town here is good,” Hauck said. “The coaches in town do a great job. Certainly (Sentinel coach) Dane (Oliver) did an amazing job of blending all of that together and then beating the heck out of everybody they played.
“Coaches will always tell you, there’s a reason why we win, and the No. 1 reason is we have good players. Sentinel was dominant in high school football in Montana this year, maybe as dominant as I’ve ever seen, and consequently, we were able to get five guys off of their team to come join us. They do some things in their program that are similar to how we do them so I think those guys will assimilate into our system more easily than some that aren’t familiar with it, but it’s always great to have guys locally here in Missoula County that can play. That’s exciting.”
Hauck also had high praise for Havre product Kellen Detrick, saying he had “monstrous upside,” while also highlighting Las Vegas, Nevada, quarterback recruit Daniel Britt, who led Liberty High School to the Nevada 4A state championship in 2019. Hauck also expressed his excitement to get more players from small towns and classifications in Montana, such as Savage’s Sloan McPherson from the 6-Man ranks.
Signing day could be the last major excitement from UM until the season is scheduled to start in the late winter and early spring. Montana and the rest of the Big Sky Conference are slated to play six-game conference schedules, with UM scheduled to take on Northern Arizona on Feb. 27, 2021 in Flagstaff.