MISSOULA — It didn't take long for Henry Nuce to become a key contributor for the Montana Grizzlies.
The Kalispell native and Glacier High graduate has been a rotation player on UM's defensive line the last two seasons, and getting thrown into the fire early has given him plenty of motivation.
"It's like a huge honor," Nuce said. "It makes me want to work even harder because you're going to be out there playing so you've got to put in the work even more."
Nuce arrived at Montana in 2020, and his first season at UM was a de facto redshirt year when the COVID-19 pandemic postponed the football season. So in 2021, Nuce was ready as a freshman to see playing time right away.
"I'm a different person from the beginning when I got here to just one year later," Nuce said. "Just having all of those practices, it just completely changes you really. Like the transition from high school to college it's such a big transition and just being around the team, seeing what needs to be done, seeing the speed of the game and everything you need to know, just having that year really helped me so much.
"It was really cool. My first play was in Washington and that was just crazy. It was an unbelievable experience especially because we beat them. And being behind Joe (Babros) and Justin (Belknap), watching them play, watching their film everyday. They went in right before I do and I watched them and I learned so much from them, and just the attitude and the mindset you need. As a freshman they conditioned me to toughen up and grow up so that was huge to have them there."
Head coach Bobby Hauck said Nuce already had some of the physical gifts when he got to Missoula, and that extra time to prep helped him immensely.
"He was a strong guy coming in, so physically, he was kind of there," Hauck said. "So learning the position, learning the defense. He put that year to good use. I think the sky's the limit for Hank. He's still got work to do, he's still a young player but he's shown flashes of being really good."
Last year, Nuce saw even more time on the field, and his impact continued to grow as his stats included 34 total tackles, 5.5 for loss and a pair of sacks.
"I kind of knew where I had to be better, where I had to grow and I just tried to attack that and get as better as I can," Nuce said. "And I had the year of experience so you kind of know what's going on in the game. You know how it's going to be at practice, you know the schedule of the whole year pretty much which really helped me to just try to focus on what I can get better at instead of focusing on what's going to happen next."
Nuce, now a rising junior, has been using this spring session to continue elevating his play and also learning some of the new elements that have come with the team's coaching changes.
"It's mostly footwork, getting used to the footwork, run it over and over," Nuce said. "And I noticed like getting better at pass rush and playing double teams and understanding blocks and reading blocks quicker, that's really my main focus right now."
Once spring ball concludes, he'll head into the summer with a focus on staying in shape and honing up his skills and technique as he looks to take his play to the next level this fall as an athlete who is expected to feature heavily in the mix for the Griz.
"The summer after the game is one of the most important times of the year," Nuce said. "You've got to really get your body right. Get strong, get fit and especially later in the summer you've got to get in shape. You got to push hard.
"The biggest part of that was just understanding what you need to do on every specific play and understanding the offense and reading blocks and knowing the plays. That was really the biggest thing, just having that experience the year before and I'm hoping having last year's experience will help me even more going into this next year."