MISSOULA — Nick Ostmo was met with some helpful advice when he jogged back to the sideline after a play during Montana’s preseason football camp this week.
The sophomore running back hadn’t run the play as well as he could have, and there was All-American running back Marcus Knight ready to greet him with some thoughts. Even though Knight is still recovering from an injury and not practicing, he can share what he sees with his fellow running backs.
“He sees a hole I didn’t cut in and I went a different way, he’ll be like, ‘Hey, you need to watch this guy because he likes to kick him out and you can cut inside him,’ and stuff like that,” Ostmo recalled. “Just stuff to keep in the back of my mind the next time we run that same play I can kind of look for it.”
Replacing Knight with one player is no easy task. He’s carried the ball 227 times for 1,030 yards and 23 rushing touchdowns at UM, while the six other running backs on the roster have combined for 165 carries for 706 yards at the Division I level.
It might take a group of guys to do everything Knight could do on the field. So, for UM coach Bobby Hauck, it’s all about building depth with the players they do have right now.
“I think in any offense, that position’s maybe the most physical on the field, or certainly one of them, because you’re in a collision every play. They’re either in protection or they’re running the ball,” he said. “You got to have depth there.”
Aside from Knight, Ostmo is the only running back on the roster with significant college carries. He’s carried the ball 116 times for 449 yards and six touchdowns while catching 15 passes for 156 yards and two scores in 14 games.
Ostmo has been up to the challenge of taking over for Knight. It was Knight who took Ostmo under his wing when the latter arrived on campus for 2019 fall camp. He began learning lessons from Knight then and started to help other along more often when he was elevated to first-string running back following Knights’ injury in spring camp.
“Being more the main guy, getting more reps during the games kind of made me jump into that leadership role, teaching everybody else,” he said. “There’s other guys like Drew Turner and Ryan Arntson that are older, but besides them, all the other guys are younger, so there’s been opportunity for me to try to help them during the summer.”
True freshman Xavier Harris has the next-most experience. He rushed 23 times for 148 yards and three touchdowns in two spring games while catching four passes for 34 yards.
Isiah Childs, a freshman transfer from Akron who has yet to play in college, has been taking third-string reps behind Ostmo and Harris. He was a three-star recruit coming out of high school in Kansas, and Hauck said he has “good film” and is “really athletic.”
Hauck also singled out sophomore Drew Turner as someone who’s “doing a good job.” The Kalispell Glacier grad has rushed 22 times for 108 yards and one touchdown in 11 games.
Rounding out the group are Arntson, an NAIA transfer who’s rushed four times for 1 yard, and true freshman Colter Janacaro, a Missoula Big Sky grad.
Then there’s Knight. His timetable for a return is unknown, but Hauck didn’t rule him out for the year when asked what his outlook is for Knight to come back sometime this season.
“Yeah, I don’t know,” he said. “I hope sooner rather than later.”
It could be seen as a positive that Knight is even walking around at practice to offer players like Ostmo advice. It shows he's at least engaged mentally while going through what appear to physical rehab drills during practice.
"I know he wants to be out here," Ostmo offered. "He's working hard to come back and can’t wait to get back here."
Day 4 observations
In 11-vs-11 play, safety Nash Fouch took a good angle to prevent wide receiver Sammy Akem from scoring a touchdown after Akem caught an intermediate route near the sideline and slipped a tackle attempt by cornerback Corbin Walker.
Freshman linebacker Carson Rostad, converted from quarterback, made a similar play when he raced over to tackle Junior Bergen on a pass from Daniel Britt when the third- or fourth-stringers were playing.
Childs broke off a run of about 30 yards by bouncing right, but he was immediately stopped for no gain on the next play.
Linebacker Patrick O’Connell got the defense roaring when he forced wide receiver Gabe Sulser to fumble the ball on a jet sweep.
Safety Gavin Robertson made a diving interception to pick off a pass batted up in the air, possibly by linebacker Jace Lewis, in coverage.
With the offense backed up against the end zone, defensive end Joe Babros dropped Ostmo for a loss. Defensive tackle Eli Alford nearly stopped Harris for a safety, but Harris got just outside the goal line.
A day after going 3 of 3 on field goals of about 30-40 yards, freshman Camden Capser missed all three from about 45 yards out on the right hash. Carver Gilman made 2 of 3 from the same spot after a 1-of-3 showing the day before.