MISSOULA — Wide receiver has been one of those positions for the Montana Grizzlies with familiar faces like Samori Toure or Samuel Akem starring for many seasons. But this year, the pass catchers are led by a few vets, with others looking step up both at receiver, but also at tight end.
Mitch Roberts and Malik Flowers enter their senior seasons as the veterans in the receivers room.
They're a couple of players who had to work their way into playing time over the last couple of years, but now find themselves leading this younger group.
"I'm kind of taking on that leadership role and helping some of the young guys," Roberts said. "But the nice thing with our group is everyone seems to learn pretty quickly and get a grasp on things so just helping the younger guys out a little bit and it's been clicking pretty good."
Roberts was second on the team in receiving yards a year ago with 683 and he led the team in catches with 55, one of which was a touchdown. Flowers — who has been a preseason All-American pick at kick returner — caught 14 passes for 210 yards and two scores
So receiver is a position where newer faces will be tasked with stepping up.
Sophomore Junior Bergen (21 catches, 230 yards, one score) is back to receiver full time after filling in at running back last year, but fellow sophomore Ryan Simpson (19 receptions, 247 yards) also began to crack the rotation last year.
The depth doesn't get much older from there, as sophomores Aaron Fontes and Keelan White (22 catches, 156 yards) also saw some playing time a year ago and are expected to compete in 2022, while freshmen Nick Williams, Drew Deck, and Washington transfer Camden Ver Strate also could find themselves in the mix.
So with inexperience comes plenty of opportunities for younger players to step up.
"What stands out about this group is everyone is just willing to make plays," Roberts said. "Go up and make a big grab on our defense and we're just willing to compete each and every day. Our defense is always pushing us to get better and we have one of the best defenses to compete against every day so it's great."
Montana's tight ends are a different story.
Led by 2021 breakout star Cole Grossman, UM also brings production back from the likes of junior Joey Elwell and sophomore Erik Barker. Grossman finished with 36 receptions for 463 yards and five touchdowns while Elwell had a pair of scores and Barker also caught a touchdown pass in 2021.
Plus, the Grizzlies get a boost with seasoned vet Matt Rensvold back from a long layoff after missing last year and most of 2019 with injury. Rensvold has three career touchdowns at Montana but played in just three games in 2019, his last on-field action coming on Sept. 14, 2019 against Oregon.
"It's awesome," Grossman said of the group. "We're really close, all brothers, and it's just cool to be in an environment where we all like each other and there's no differences between anybody and we all want each other to succeed more than ourselves so it's pretty cool."
Helping with blocking is a priority for this group as they work with a younger offensive line, while also remaining a threat in the passing game, as Grossman did a year ago down the second half of the season.
"Just a lot of drill work," Grossman said. "Making sure you're catching the ball, blocking with pass (protection), everything, so I think we do about every drill a receiver does and every drill a lineman does so it's pretty cool. I love the position. It's multi-facet."
Griz running backs on the 2022 roster by number
No. 2, Sawyer Racanelli, R-SO, 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Brush Prairie, WA
No. 3, Nick Williams, R-FR, 6-foot-5, 195 pounds, Oceanside, CA
No. 4, Ryan Simpson, R-SO, 6-foot-6, 210 pounds, Bozeman, MT
No. 5, Junior Bergen, SO, 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, Billings, MT
No. 6, Keelan White, R-SO, 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
No. 9, Drew Deck, R-FR, 5-foot-9, 160 pounds, Kalispell, MT
No. 14, Aaron Fontes, SO, 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, Oxnard, CA
No. 18, Sam Alford, FR, 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Park City, UT
No. 19, Malik Flowers, R-SR, 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Fontana, CA
No. 20, Brady Lang, R-FR, 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, Bozeman, MT
No. 24, Camden Ver Strate, R-SO, 5-foot-8, 170 pounds, Cheney, WA
No. 29, Tanner Huff, R-FR, 6-foot-0, 170 pounds, Butte, MT
No. 80, Mitch Roberts, R-SR, 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, Missoula, MT
No. 82, Ian Finch, FR, 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, Missoula, MT
No. 11, Cole Grossman, R-SO, 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Vancouver, WA
No. 81, Matt Rensvold, R-JR, 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, Polson, MT
No. 84, Joey Elwell, JR, 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, Meridian, ID
No. 85, Micah Ashton, R-FR, 6-foot-5, 237 pounds, San Diego, CA
No. 86, Joe Weida, FR, 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, Missoula, MT
No. 87, Jake Olson, R-FR, 6-foot-7, 251 pounds, Butte, MT
No. 88, Erik Barker, SO, 6-foot-4, 238 pounds, Keizer, OR
No. 89, Peyton Brammer, R-FR, 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, Brush Prairie, WA