MISSOULA — Robby Hauck had a nice talk with Jordy Tripp following Montana's football scrimmage Friday.

It was a snapshot worth saving for anyone who loves the Grizzlies.

One embodied the heart and soul of Montana's defense earlier this decade. The other is a fearless 21-year-old safety tasked with recapturing that familiar Montana swagger along with a long list of young teammates.

Both are unique legacy players. The kind you covet in a program that has a proud tradition of success.

"Shoot, I remember going sledding with Jordy when I was younger and he was in high school and all that," Robby said of Tripp, a Big Sky grad and Hauck family friend who recently ended his four-year NFL career.

"I remember coming to practice as a kid and I thought it was so cool I got to spot the ball for the Grizzlies. They were always critiquing me where I placed the ball. Another thing I remember is going into the locker room and singing the fight song with the team after big wins." 

A Northern Arizona transfer who counts Missoula as his hometown — even though he left at age 12 when his dad took the head coaching job at UNLV — Robby is that rare connection to the past in shoulder pads. He can tell you all about trips to the FCS finals in Chattanooga, because he lived the experience.

Today he's tied to his father's success in ways he used to dream about, playing for Bobby Hauck in his second go-round as Griz head coach. Say what you will about the connection, there's one thing for damn sure: Robby has and will continue to go to the wall for Montana.

As a redshirt freshman last season, he finished with the second-most tackles on the squad. The way in which he darts forward to defend the run conjures up images of his uncle, Timmy Hauck, a hitting machine for Montana who took his talents to the NFL.

Like Timmy and Bobby, Robby wants to be part of something special in Missoula. He's not about to make any bold predictions, but he guarantees the Grizzlies will be the "hardest-working team on the field" next fall.

Nimble No. 17 likes the progress his defense has made this spring.

"We had a lot of young guys playing last year, including me," he offered. "Just getting in the playbook another year and being with the coaches and together as a unit mixing real well, we've become more fluid.

"We had like 20-some (underclassmen) in our two-deep last year and we rotate our guys a lot. Just a young team in general. But that experience sets us ahead for this year."

Montana's defense is more physical this spring. It shows in the unit's improved tackling and knack for taking on and getting off blocks.

Hard lessons were learned last season. Lessons about staying power and grit.

"It's all mental toughness, that's what our coaches preach," Robby offered. "And we've got more depth now, which is always important. Like everybody says, injuries are part of the game."

No one dislikes Grizzly losses more than Robby Hauck. Even when he was 11 and watched from the stands, they were hard to swallow.

Certainly Bobby Hauck, the winningest football coach in Montana history, is every bit as competitive now at age 54 as he was at 44. But he's also got a lighter side, according to his son.

"He's pretty funny when it's appropriate," Robby noted. "He likes to bust everybody's chops a little bit. The right guys get the humor."

It's going to be fun watching Bobby Hauck and his still-young team next season. They have a tough schedule, so improving on their 6-5 mark from 2018 is a tall task.

Something tells me they'll do it anyway — buoyed by determined upstarts and echoes from the past.

"Just being around the team as a kid, I became pretty close with a lot of the former players," Robby says proudly. "Jordy (Tripp), Colt (Anderson), Coach Shann (Schillinger), Marc (Mariani) .... All those guys, and I loved the defense even back then.

"Even after we left (in 2009), I stayed in contact with (Tripp) and talked with him and everything like that. Having them come back and support us like they have is pretty motivating. Colt (Anderson) was at last week's practice. Knowing we have their support means a lot."

Montana will have a mountain of fan support Saturday when it plays its annual spring game in Kalispell. For Bobby and Robby Hauck and the rest of Grizzlies, it promises to be the perfect topper for a productive spring.

Then the real fun starts in August.

Bill Speltz is the Deputy Sports Editor of the Missoulian. Email him at bill.speltz@missoulian.com or bill.speltz@406mtsports.com.

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