MISSOULA — Montana’s 2017 preseason camp is in the books, meaning that Year 3 of the Bob Stitt era at Montana is officially here.

The Griz host the Valparaiso Crusaders on Saturday to open up the 2017 campaign.

"I'm just excited to get after it, see my team do well, just put our heads down and keep grinding,” sophomore linebacker Vika Fa’atuiese said. “This team is looking very good and I'm enjoying a lot of fun with them. It's been great."

It’s been nearly 300 days since the Griz have suited up for a football game, and the Griz are itching for kickoff.

“We've been working so long to get to football season,” Stitt said.

That work was a 20-practice camp with three scrimmages to get prepared for the upcoming season.

Stitt and defensive coordinator Jason Semore are pleased with what they saw.

“Assignment-wise, it was fantastic all around,” Semore said. “I think from the first day of fall camp to the last day of fall camp, we were very, very consistent in terms of execution and fundamentals of the game. The guys never had a down day so that's a testament to our maturity as a football team.”

Stitt, too, was happy with his team’s consistency. On top of that, he was impressed with the professionalism the players displayed, even though they’re a young bunch.

Since the season’s finally here, practices take a different approach.

“The physicality ramps down and the mental part ramps up,” Semore said. “You have a limited amount of time to prepare for an offense. It's more thinking. ... It's more mental preparation during practice than it is 'let's go work really really hard.' We still expect effort when we are training fundamentals but it's a lot of focus and mental energy."

Stitt echoed that sentiment.

"You can get more focused,” Stitt said. “Fall camp is trying to sharpen everything, get better at everything and then once you focus on an opponent then you can really zero in on what you need to be good at in that specific week."

Of course, Week 1 is a unique animal in itself.

“Every Week 1 you don’t know what you’re gonna get,” Semore said. “A team might change their offense in the offseason, which I’ve dealt with before. You gotta keep your game plan very basic and very flexible just in case. You don't know what tendencies they're gonna operate with based on the personnel that they have or how their offensive coordinator is gonna call a game.”

Montana’s relatively lucky in that Valparaiso appears to return all but one starter from last season, according to its two-deep from the last game of the year.

"You've kinda gotta go off of last year's film and prepare for everything,” Stitt said. “Offensively, our quarterbacks understand when we get in a formation how we're gonna attack things and that's what we need to in each week. The film helps, but we're still gonna go into it every single week the exact same way and they've gotta understand what the defense is doing and where their weakness is and attack it."

Saturday's game against Valparaiso kicks off at 1 p.m. in Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

Notes

REY GREEN: The redshirt freshman running back went down with what Stitt calls a “lower extremity injury” in the team's third scrimmage on Thursday.

With a walking boot on his right foot, Green still has more tests to undergo and the severity of the injury is not yet known.

“We're very upset and hurt for him,” Stitt said.

Despite Green going down with an injury, Stitt said he’s pleased with how the team has responded in the aftermath.

“I think Rey Green getting hurt the other day kinda showed what our team's all about,” Stitt said. "They rallied around him. That's what you're looking for in a team."

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Amie Just covers Griz football for the Missoulian, among other things. Follow her on Twitter @Amie_Just or email her at Amie.Just@406mtsports.com.

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