(Editor's note: This is the third in an eight-part series highlighting the position groups for the Montana Grizzlies football team. For Part 1 on the quarterbacks, click here. For Part 2 on the running backs, click here. For Part 4 on the offensive line, click here. For Part 5 on the defensive line, click here. For Part 6 on the linebackers, click here. For Part 7 on the defensive backs, click here. For Part 8 on the special teams unit, click here).
MISSOULA -- Montana's receiving corps serves to be another advantage for the Grizzly offense this upcoming fall.
With guys like Samuel Akem, Gabe Sulser and Mitch Roberts back into the mix, there's plenty of veteran experience at that position, but also young guys ready to step up and fill roles.
Sulser and Akem didn't waste any time in the spring as the duo hit the ground running in Montana's two spring games. Everyone on the team had a long layoff due to the postponed season in 2020, but Akem and Sulser both saw their 2019 seasons cut short due to injury and are healthy and ready to roll once again.
"It was awesome, I really think we needed that (in the spring). To not have to play a full season and come back this fall and play another full season but to be able to get some live reps (is great)," Akem said. "To be able to get against guys, who, one team that is in our conference so we really get a measuring bar but it was awesome to be able to get those reps in and be able to get out there and get our legs back underneath us."
"I just like our work ethic and just how dedicated everybody is to improving everyday. You can just see it, everybody is dedicated to working hard and improving themselves like 1% everyday. I just appreciate that and it makes me want to come in and work hard right along with them."
The return of the duo is key, both of whom played well in 2018, espcially Akem who had his breakout season that year. In UM's two spring games back in April, Akem caught six passes for 88 yards and two touchdowns while Sulser caught eight passes for 145 yards and two scores.
Akem's name is already among the best receivers in Griz history. The Oklahoma native has 142 catches for 2,022 yards and 22 touchdowns during his Griz career. His touchdown total is eighth all-time in receiving TDs at UM, with Marc Mariani's mark of 29 scores leading the way.
"It feels good that we finally get to play, senior season, you know," Akem said. "All the momentum that we’ve built coming up, all the hard work that we put in, it just feels good that we’re going to be able to go out there and show what we’ve been working on."
The depth is there for the Grizzlies at receiver.
Roberts, a Missoula Sentinel graduate, broke out in 2019 and is due to start on the outside as he did in the spring, while Malik Flowers, Keelan White and Ryan Simpson all will add into the mix at receiver.
"I think we’ve got a lot of talent, we’re pretty deep at wideout," said Sulser, a Billings native who was the 2017 Montana Gatorade Player of the Year. "I think that’s only going to help us in the long run. I think we got a bunch of guys that are ready to go and ready to play and I think our team and coaches feel comfortable with a lot of different guys in there which is a good thing and I think that makes us pretty versatile too.
"I think our group has done a good job at getting better each day and ultimately that's the goal in fall camp. You want to just keep grinding and get through this initial part and focus on each day and we're all happy to be back."
Along with the receivers, the tight ends will figure into the passing game.
The tight ends are a position with a younger core and not as much on field experience as other positions at Montana, but Cole Grossman has been impressing early in fall camp as the lead candidate. Polson native Matt Rensvold enters with the most experience of the bunch but is still nursing an injury.
"We have a pretty good mix of some older guys and then some guys that are going to play (at receiver)," UM coach Bobby Hauck said. "I think they have pretty good speed, they're garnering understanding of the offense. It's certainly a lot more clear to them now that we're a couple years in and camp's been good by them."
Thanks to the reps in the spring, this year's receiving corps is feeling confident as the first week of the season approaches.
"I honestly think we had the perfect spring schedule just getting two games in was awesome because you got those live reps but you weren’t playing a full season to where you were kind of beat up at the end so I think it was great," Sulser said. "It allowed us to get on the same page with quarterbacks and get our offense on the same page. It allowed to give us some extra time and get some live reps which we’re going to need.
"It's been awesome. It finally feels like football season again and it's been a long time coming."
Griz wide receivers and tight ends on the 2021 roster by number
No. 3, Nick Williams, FR, 6-foot-5, 195 pounds, Oceanside, CA
No. 4, Ryan Simpson, R-FR, 6-6, 210 pounds, Bozeman, MT
No. 5, Junior Bergen, FR, 5-11, 175 pounds, Billings, MT
No. 7, Gabe Sulser, JR, 5-9, 170 pounds, Billings, MT
No. 9, Drew Deck, FR, 5-9, 160 pounds, Kalispell, MT
No. 16, Aaron Fontes, FR, 6-1, 170 pounds, Oxnard, CA
No. 17, Keelan White, R-FR, 6-2, 190 pounds, North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
No. 18, Samuel Akem, R-SR, 6-4, 210 pounds, Broken Arrow, OK
No. 19, Malik Flowers, R-JR, 6-2, 200 pounds, Fontana, CA
No. 20, Brady Lang, FR, 6-1, 175 pounds, Bozeman, MT
No. 23, Tanner Huff, FR, 6-0, 170 pounds, Butte, MT
No. 80, Mitch Roberts, R-JR, 6-1, 200 pounds, Missoula, MT
No. 85, Danny Burton, SR, 5-10, 170 pounds, Helena, MT
No. 11, Cole Grossman, R-FR, 6-4, 220 pounds, Vancouver, WA
No. 46, Micah Ashton, FR, 6-5, 237 pounds, San Diego, CA
No. 81, Matt Rensvold, R-JR, 6-4, 250 pounds, Polson, MT
No. 83, Matt Simkins, FR, 6-4, 222 pounds, Butte, MT
No. 84, Joey Elwell, SO, 6-3, 245 pounds, Meridian, ID
No. 86, Colten Curry, R-SO, 6-7, 230 pounds, Valier, MT
No. 87, Jake Olson, FR, 6-7, 251 pounds, Butte, MT
No. 88, Erik Barker, FR, 6-4, 238 pounds, Keizer, OR
No. 89, Peyton Brammer, FR, 6-5, 220 pounds, Brush Prairie, WA