MISSOULA — Football is officially back in Missoula.
The Montana Grizzlies opened their 2021 campaign on Monday evening by kicking off fall camp at Dornblaser Field with a non-padded practice. It was the first of 18 scheduled practices for the Grizzlies who will open the season at Washington on Sept. 4 in Seattle.
"It's good to see you guys, it means we're back in business," Montana coach Bobby Hauck said to begin his media session before practice began. "We're excited to be out here. I can't wait to get on the field with the guys so it should be a lot of fun."
Montana enters fall camp picked to finish second in the Big Sky Conference in the preseason media and coaches poll behind Weber State. The Grizzlies were also ranked at No. 9 in the Stats Perform FCS preseason poll as well, which was released Monday morning.
Montana also had five players named preseason All-Big Sky players as well as five named Stats Perform preseason All-Americans.
"We're ready to hit the fall running," offensive lineman Dylan Cook told MTN Sports at the Big Sky Kickoff two weeks ago.
After a two-game schedule in the spring that Montana went 2-0 in, the Grizzlies entered summer with workouts and goals to achieve before fall camp opened. The Grizzlies return 20 total starters from the spring and 14 from the 2019 campaign in which UM advanced to the FCS quarterfinal round of the playoffs.
"We max test in the weight room, we time, we test, we do all of those things so we expect improvement in numbers," Hauck said of the team's summer goals and workouts. "Speed, weights, jumping, all of those things we expect progress there. And then with what the guys do on their own in the summer, we kind of expect this first practice -- other than the freshman, they'll look lost -- but we kind of expect it to look pretty sharp."
"Spring was good. It was about as good as we could ever hope for. I mean it was just outstanding in terms of the effort and the outcomes and how we played. The improvement and all of those different things that you're looking for so I thought spring was great. We've been off for a couple of months now in terms of practicing and we need to get back out there and play some ball."
While the Grizzlies gear up for their first fall football season since 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic still lingers over daily life in the world. Big Sky Conference commissioner Tom Wistrcill said his goal was for all football teams to reach an 80%-85% vaccination rate to help preserve the season.
When asked if he knew what his team's current vaccination rate was, Hauck said he didn't know. When asked if they'd reach that 80%-85% mark the conference has set for a goal for it's member schools, Hauck said, "I don't know, we'll see."
Earlier on Monday, Montana State coach Brent Vigen told the Billings Gazette that they expect to be at a 90% vaccination rate on the team by the time September rolls around. Games that are lost due to a COVID-19 outbreak within a team during the season will be marked as forfeits, according to Wistrcill.