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Montana football ready to 'hit the fall running'

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Posted at 6:06 PM, Jul 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-30 20:33:12-04

SPOKANE, Wash. — Dylan Cook and Jace Lewis both smiled when asked the same question.

The Montana natives -- Cook of Butte and Lewis of Townsend -- have a pair of unorthodox roads that have led them to becoming faces of the Montana Grizzly football program. Lewis, the small-town walk-on turned star linebacker and current owner of the legacy No. 37 jersey, and Cook, who was a college quarterback at Montana State-Northern before leaving the program to also walk-on at UM, only as a right tackle on the offensive line.

"We have a lot of great guys on our team and Jace and Dylan kind of personify that," Montana coach Bobby Hauck said. "Dylan's story is a bit unique. Going from a college quarterback to a college right tackle is not necessarily the norm. He's made that transition well and I think he's poised for a big year. And then Jace over the last three years and two seasons has been a guy who has improved tremendously and I think he's going to have a great fall as well."

When asked what it meant to the duo to be Montana's representatives at the Big Sky Kickoff in Spokane, Washington, the two got a moment to reflect on their accomplishments.

"It's an honor, there's no place I'd rather be," Cook said. "It's such an honor to be here, such an honor to get invited here. It's been a blast of a weekend but job's not finished."

"I think it's cool for both of us because we both came in as walk-ons and earned our keep here and worked our way up to a full ride," Lewis added. "So I think that makes it that much more special. We didn't come in with any money and we had to work our tails off to get where we're at. To see all of the hard work paying off for the both of us and the rest of our team, it's cool to see."

The pair of seniors are about to embark on their final fall season of college football with Montana, with the season right around the corner.

Montana returns almost everyone from the roster that blew out its two opponents in its two-game spring season earlier in 2021. Now, the Grizzlies are beginning to taper their summer workouts as fall camp rapidly approaches.

"I feel like with this summer we've definitely found ways to make progress," Cook said. "We've sharpened all of our tools and kind of perfected each position and have gotten high talent, high intensity at each individual position. I think we're ready to hit the fall running."

After a postponed fall season in 2020, it's full-steam ahead in 2021 for the Grizzlies. Montana is slated to open fall camp on Aug. 9, with a full 11-game schedule on the agenda starting Sept. 4 at Washington, a game which the Grizzlies will get paid $675,000 in guarantee game money.

"The good news is we get to go play," Hauck said. "We've got 11 games this fall, we can win them all or we can lose them all. That's going to be determined every Saturday. With that being said, we like our team. We feel good about it and we think we're poised to have success."

"I think it was a tremendously hard year on our player's mental health. I think it was really difficult. I think their physical health was fine. I think it was a hard year on them mentally and we had to be really aware of that and we had to nurture that a bit but we have a tough bunch and they've powered through things pretty well and, again, we just can't wait to get practicing," he added.

The spring schedule was unique in that Montana opted to play two games after choosing to not play the abridged Big Sky schedule in the spring after the 2020 fall season was postponed.

After a typical three-week spring ball slate, the Grizzlies got two wins under their belt, which Lewis says went a long way heading into the summer.

"It was huge for us just to get those two games," Lewis said. "We hadn't played for a year so those two games kind of knocked the rust off and let us see that we do have a championship caliber team and we have developed a lot of depth and those younger guys, we're bringing them up as well with us. So the spring was good and we've had great summer workouts so I'm excited for this fall."

The team's confidence is high as fall camp approaches.

With a goal in sight and mind again, the Grizzlies are ready to get started.

"Trying to really focus on our potential," Cook said. "We know what we're capable of and we know we can compete for a championship but we still have to go out and play and perform."