MISSOULA — Expectations are high for the 2021 Montana Grizzlies football team, and depth has been the storyline. There are five players on the all-Big Sky preseason team and five named to Stats Perform’s preseason all-American team.
MTN Sports caught up with HERO Sports senior FCS analyst Sam Herder on what went into their decision to rank the Griz ninth in their preseason FCS top 25 poll.
"You can just see since coach (Bobby) Hauck came back, kind of the elevation of the program," Herder explained. "And we have been waiting nationally from the FCS perspective, we have been waiting for Montana to get back on the national radar and they have been building towards that. 2019 was kind of the breakout season, making it to the quarterfinals. And obviously they lose some key players like Dalton Sneed and Dante Olson, but I think they have enough depth and enough talent overall to really make a run deep into the playoffs."
That talent includes wide receiver Samuel Akem who will continue to be a go-to Griz target. Akem goes into his senior year with 2,022 receiving yards and 142 receptions, 22 of them for touchdowns.
“I think he has pro potential, you can just throw it up to him and he will make plays," Herder said. "I think he will be able to stretch the defense out because I know with Knight out with his knee injury, they will have to have some running backs step up. But definitely Akem will help the QB, and he is going to help the run game too."
A balanced offensive attack is what they’re going for. Now in his third full season back with the Griz, this team is starting to have Hauck’s fingerprints all over it.
"It's a tough transition because what (former Griz coach) Bob Stitt brought was more air raid pass and attack, that is not or wasn’t coach Hauck’s coaching style," Herder said. "Now it is interesting because it is a little bit of both. Obviously Montana still wings the ball around quite a bit in the passing offense, but you can still tell that Hauck wants to get back to a physical running style as well."
If they can get back to that style of play, Herder has full confidence that we’ll be seeing the Griz late in the season.
“The outlook for the Griz is looking really good and I think they will certainly make an impact on that national scene,” said Herder.