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Montana Grizzlies' secondary set for success in 2019

Posted: 6:21 PM, Aug 05, 2019
Updated: 2019-08-05 22:04:32-04
Dante Olson’s award-winning performances leading aggressive Montana Grizzlies defense

(Editor's note: University of Montana media release)

MISSOULA - It's safe to say the Hauck family knows a thing or two about playing safety.

Grizzly legend Tim Hauck – brother to head coach Bobby Hauck and one of UM's all-time leading tacklers – had a 12-year NFL career as a safety and is now a Super Bowl-winning safeties coach with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Turns out the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Entering his second season at Montana, Robby Hauck appears to be following in his uncle's footsteps.

As a freshman in 2018, the safety not only earned a starting job but posted more tackles than any freshman in the Big Sky Conference with 95 (the 47th-most of any player nationally) as an All-American and finalist for the STATS FCS Jerry Rice Award.

Now the youngest of the Hauck boys will be relied upon as a leader in a group of defensive backs with a mixed bag of experience, but the raw materials and talent to be one of the Grizzlies' best in 2019.

With Hauck and the likes of hard-hitting Gavin Robertson and Josh Sandry set to return, Montana's safeties are as explosive as any in the league. Add into the mix junior Gavin Crow who looks the physical part, and the depth of the group starts to shape up. The question then becomes, how good can they get, and who else will enter the rotation?

"In this defense, these guys have got to tackle and have to make plays in space. The guys right now at the top of the depth chart can all do that. I think all three of them are just scratching the surface of what they can be. The sky is the limit for those guys, and hopefully, they have a big year." said Bobby Hauck.

"The next group, it's sort of like the linebackers, they are inexperienced, and we need to feel comfortable with them going in the game and not having any hesitation in putting them in at any point in time. That's what we need to get to this August."

One contender might be sophomore Michael McGinnes, a native of Sidney who enjoyed an outstanding spring season. At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, McGinnis' stature already makes a case for playing time this fall. And as the winner of the 2019 President's Award for the athletic department's top overall GPA, has what it takes between the ears to be an elite defender.

"Mike is a really bright kid. He's a long-limbed guy that can run. He's is one of those guys that could probably play eight positions on our defense," says Hauck.

Montana's cornerbacks are a different story. Senior Justin Calhoun has made great strides as a corner since transferring over from wide receiver a year ago and working his way to a starting position in short order. Similarly, Dareon Nash converted to corner from wide receiver and worked his way into a starting job, with the two combining for 80 tackles and three interceptions.

Despite the new position, the pair punched above their weight last year. Now Hauck says it's time for them to take the next step and become lock-down corners.

"Other than Josh Egbo, I don't know if we have played a corner here in the past 18 months that wasn't recruited as a wide receiver, because we didn't have any corners," said Hauck.

"With Calhoun and Nash, we need to continue to compete and become great technicians and be able to win on the ball out there. Egbo is dealing with an injury, so we are a little thin there. We need our corners to compete and gather depth."

Set to emerge as a potential dark horse for minutes at corner is senior Kobey Eaton, another converted receiver who has bided his time on special teams waiting for an opportunity.

Senior Kadeem Hemphill is also an intriguing prospect. The 2018 transfer from San Jose State made a lot of noise in the spring with several big plays in scrimmages and could factor in the depth at the position.

New to the squad this fall is Mykal Tolliver, a junior who transferred to Montana from Hawaii over the summer, having appeared in six games for the Rainbow Warriors as a true freshman. Ranked as the No. 11 best overall cornerback in the Western U.S. at the elite St. John Bosco High School, he could see his way to the field in short order.

No matter who steps on the field for the defensive backs, it comes down to what man can survive on the island and put a halt to some of the top offenses in the country that lurk on the Grizzlies' 2019 schedule.

"If we can cover on the outside, the things we do on the inside are going to be pretty salty," said Hauck.

The 2019 Grizzlies officially reported to campus on Sunday, with the team's cohort of newcomers moving into the dorms, undergoing physicals, and getting fitted for equipment. The first official team meeting will be held Sunday evening.

The team will then spend Monday in orientation and various meetings before taking the field for the first practice on Tuesday afternoon.