(Editor's note: This is the fourth 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 3 on the wide receivers/tight ends, 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 football team has a wealth of experience at the offensive line positions, and after adding transfer AJ Forbes at center, the offensive line is poised to take the next step for the Grizzly offense.
Forbes, a transfer from Nebraska, joined the Grizzlies last summer, and in the spring was made the starting center for UM after the graduation of Cy Sirmon.
"I came here because I wanted to be able to really compete for a spot," Forbes said. "I knew that once I came here about a year-and-a-half ago, I knew that I wasn’t going to be coming in and be a starter right away. I still had the work ethic that I’ve had my whole life. I knew I had to keep that going to be able to earn that spot.
"Especially with the offensive line, you have to be able to be a cohesive unit. These guys were super friendly to me. I've grown to lose these guys. These are my family now. I'm just glad to be here. This is a really great group."
And he had some help as Forbes joined an offensive line where everyone else is a returning starter. That includes right tackle Dylan Cook, right guard Moses Mallory and left tackle Conlan Beaver, as well as expected left guard starter Kordell Pillans who missed the spring games but started two games in 2019.
For a guy like Mallory, he also followed a similar trajectory as Forbes as a transfer who competed for starting minutes right away at Montana. Mallory started his career at Dixie State but transferred to Eastern Arizona College before coming to UM.
"I was once the new guy so I know how it is," Mallory said. "You got to come in and kind of earn your your place but AJ has done a good job of doing that. He’s shown real leadership values. He’s our center so we listen to whatever calls he makes and he’s doing a good job. I trust him and the rest of the O-line trusts him."
The depth at offensive line doesn't end with the starters, as players like Colton Keintz, Tyler Ganung and Skyler Martin also bring a lot of experience to the table and figure to rotate in with Montana's other starters, whether they split first-team reps or work as serviceable backups. Martin started both games in the spring at left guard and currently is working as the team's backup center.
The multiple years of experience together goes a long way as the offensive line has continued to improve.
"Oh man, it’s amazing. I could look to my left and my right and trust them to make the blocks they need to make as well as they can look at me and trust me to do my assignment," Mallory said. "It’s very important, so I trust them on the field and off the field.
"I'm very confident in the group. I feel like we've come together as DOLA (Dominant Offensive Line Attitude). We try to live the DOLA lifestyle and that's what is most important whether it be on the field or off the field so I'm very confident in our group."
That cohesion and trust will continue to grow with this unit as the first game approaches and the Grizzly offense moves forward.
"Especially this past week, I don’t feel like we necessarily have any kind of weakness," Forbes said. "We’re all really strong, we’re all athletic, we’re all quick, we’re all smart. Before I even get to the line to make a call, I hear (Beaver) and Cook and (Mallory) and whoever else is making calls with me so we’re looking good so far."
Griz offensive linemen on the 2021 roster by number
No. 57, AJ Forbes, R-SO, 6-foot-4, 303 pounds, Bellevue, NE
No. 60, Dillon Botner, R-FR, 6-6, 260 pounds, Whitefish, MT
No. 61, Hunter Mayginnes, R-SO, 6-5, 330 pounds, Chandler, AZ
No. 62, Kevin Good, FR, 6-4, 300 pounds, Rocklin, CA
No. 63, Trevor Welnel, R-SO, 6-4, 280 pounds, Helena, MT
No. 64, Dylan Cook, R-SR, 6-6, 305 pounds, Butte, MT
No. 65, Gerrit Bloemendaal, R-SO, 6-3, 319 pounds, Great Falls, MT
No. 66, Brandon Casey, FR, 6-5, 285 pounds, Sandpoint, ID
No. 67, Tyler Ganoung, R-SO, 6-5, 326 pounds, Hillsboro, OR
No. 68, Cody Kanouse, JR, 6-6, 320 pounds, Gig Harbor, WA
No. 69, Noah Ambuehl, R-FR, 6-3, 294 pounds, Great Falls, MT
No. 70, Skyler Martin, R-JR, 6-5, 302 pounds, Vancouver, WA
No. 71, Kordell Pillans, R-SR, 6-6, 330 pounds, Kodiak, AK
No. 72, Bo Kinney, FR, 6-5, 250 pounds, Stilwell, KS
No. 73, Colin Dreis, R-FR, 6-7, 275 pounds, Tucson, AZ
No. 74, Kukila Lincoln, FR, 6-5, 253 pounds, Kamuela, HI
No. 75, Declan McCabe, FR, 6-4, 240 pounds, Waco, TX
No. 76, Colton Keintz, R-JR, 6-8, 320 pounds, Missoula, MT
No. 77, Moses Mallory, F-SR, 6-3, 332 pounds, Herriman, UT
No. 78, Conlan Beaver, R-SR, 6-5, 315 pounds, Fredericksburg, VA
No. 79, Liam Brown, FR, 6-5, 307 pounds, Beaverton, OR