MISSOULA — Montana senior offensive lineman Cy Sirmon recalls his dad saying over the years that he wished he could’ve played center when he suited up as a four-year defensive lineman for the Idaho Vandals.
This spring, Sirmon has moved to center for the Griz and has been taking first-string reps there as he learns his fourth position in as many seasons. It’s a position he has minimal experience with, but it’s one in which he finds helpful encouragement from his dad, John Sirmon, one of six other family members who has played or is playing college football.
“He always just says, ‘That’s a great position for you,’” Sirmon said after Wednesday’s practice. “‘That’s a position I wish I could have played when I was still playing, so just own it, roll with the punches, it’s going to be a learning experience.’
“Center’s a very cerebral position. We’re the quarterback of the run game, and you got to make all those calls, you got to account for a bunch of stuff. So, it’s a lot to take in, but he’s always just encouraged me to be patient with that. It helps. It hits home.”
Sirmon and his family, who have supported him through each position change, talk every day during spring camp, even if it’s not about football, he said. He finds a sounding board to reflect on how he did in practice with his dad, his grandfather who played football for the Washington Huskies and his mom, who he described as someone who loves football and as the person from which he gets his intensity.
The conversations between Sirmon and his dad don’t delve too much into the X’s and O’s of center since his dad didn’t play there in college, although he was recruited to play that position, Sirmon said. But when Sirmon needs to talk football, his go-to call is his dad.
“They’re all really great resources, but I’d have to say I call my dad probably the most when it comes to crunch time if I’m not feeling like myself or if I’m trying to overcome something on the field,” Sirmon said.
After playing linebacker as a freshman and defensive end as a sophomore, Sirmon moved to the offensive line last season, playing in all 11 games and starting nine. As the right guard, he began to learn the offensive line calls and schemes, making this year’s move easier.
The biggest adjustment for the 6-foot-3, 272-pound Sirmon at center has been snapping the ball accurately while taking his first step at the same time. It’s a mostly new position since he only played center for half a season as a high school freshman and for the final drive against Drake last season.
“It’s just about repetition,” Sirmon said of snapping the ball. “When I first started this season before spring ball, they’re flying over his head and everything. You just got to relax, and you start to find a groove, and then it becomes motor memory.”
Should Sirmon start at center, he’ll anchor a group that has more depth and experience than last year since all the starters return, a junior college transfer has come in and there are 20 linemen listed on the spring roster. The development of the offensive linemen is something Griz head coach Bobby Hauck called “kind of everything for us.”
“I think that the distance that that group travels and how far they progress will dictate the number of W’s we have next fall,” Hauck said on Monday.
Griz quarterback Dalton Sneed has been impressed with the progress of the group.
“They’re progressing every day with their protections, with their run blocking,” Sneed said after the first scrimmage. “They’re just clearing holes left and right for the run game. That’s been the biggest thing this spring that they’ve really excelled in.”
Sirmon is a player who Sneed singled out as someone who’s taken the next step in the spring.
“He’s definitely taken on a leadership role of the offensive line,” Sneed said. “Even being his first year playing center, he’s definitely pushing guys, ‘Hey, let’s go, let’s do this,’ and trying to be the anchor of the offensive line. He’s making strides to get better every day and becoming a leader in the process.”
Hauck noted the symbiotic nature of the quarterback and center, and said both Sneed and Sirmon “have a good handle on the offense.”
“Cy’s a really bright football guy,” Hauck said, “and so he’s got some ability to direct the offensive line from the center spot and check protections and see coverage and not just where the nose is, but he sees all 11 on the other side. Cy’s doing a pretty good job there.”