MISSOULA — Montana coach Bobby Hauck and his staff had put a hold on sending out offers about three weeks ago when they began a playoff run that ended in the quarterfinals and with a 10-4 record on the season.
The playoffs were a first for the Griz since 2015, when there was no early signing period, adding a wrinkle to the recruiting process for the first time for them.
“We didn’t really have much of a recruiting pitch because we couldn’t get on the road,” Montana coach Bobby Hauck said. “We were playing, which I think you always worry about not being out there in kids’ homes when others are, but they’re paying attention to the trajectory of what we’re doing.
“So, I think that’s probably the critical element. They think we’re winning. They think we’re going to win down the road. They know what we’re about. And so that in essence is the recruiting pitch because we aren’t out there.”
Montana hit on a bit of everything when it inked 17 players on the first day of the early signing period Wednesday, but one theme that jumped out was a heavy presence on offense in addition to the continued emphasis on the line of scrimmage.
The Griz football team signed 11 offensive players compared to six defensive players on the opening day of the three-day signing period. They got three receivers and three offensive linemen, the most of any position group.
Six of Montana’s seven signees who received two or more stars from a recruiting service were on the offense. Four of them are three-star prospects and three are two-star prospects.
“Feel like we covered our board pretty well,” Hauck said of the class that included seven in-state signees. “Got what we needed. Thought we did well in the state of Montana, maybe exceedingly well.”
Hamilton quarterback Carson Rostad, the 2018 Montana Gatorade Football Player of the Year, was the Grizzlies’ first commit and was widely considered one of the prize jewels among the in-state commits, along with Missoula Sentinel running back Jaxon Lee, who also signed with Montana.
The rest of Montana’s offensive haul from the high school ranks included Kalispell Glacier wide receiver Drew Deck, Butte Central wide receiver Guido Ossello, California running back Xavier Harris, California wide receiver Aaron Fontes, Oregon tight end Erik Barker, California offensive lineman Kevin Good, Idaho O-lineman Brandon Casey and Hawaii offensive lineman Kila Lincoln.
Harris, Fontes and Barker are all 3-star recruits, while Rostad and Good are 2-star recruits. Neither Hauck nor recruiting coordinator Justin Green put much stock in those rankings.
“It’s whoever can project the best and then bring them along the farthest is going to have the best team,” Hauck said. “I think those are two things that we’ve always done really well.”
Added Green: “We’re going to take every Montana kid that we think can help us win a national championship … It may not necessarily be guys with stars on paper, but there is no measurement for toughness and grit, which we get from in state.”
The Griz also brought in a junior college quarterback in Robbie Patterson IV, a 2-star prospect. He most recently played at Saddleback Community College, the school where current Grizzly Cam Humphrey played after he transferred from Boise State. He’ll add much needed depth but likely wouldn’t transfer in if he didn’t think he could compete for the job right away.
“We don’t want to go freshman to senior at any position, so he fills in there kind of nicely in the order of things,” Hauck said.
Hauck has also emphasized the importance of dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The Griz continued working towards that by bringing in three offensive linemen and two defensive linemen.
On offense, Casey checks in at 6-foot-5, 265 pounds, Good at 6-4, 270 and Lincoln at 6-5, 245. On the D-line, Huntley Project’s Journey Grimsrud is 6-3, 240 and Glacier’s Henry Nuce is 6-4, 235.
“Coach Hauck, one of the things he said when recruiting a class was he always wants to improve the stature of the class,” Green said. “If you look at where we can always do that is in our fronts. … I think it will always be when we’re recruiting a class from this point on. So, I think that’s always something to look at. I’m amazed by how big our fronts are.”
Among the O-line, Casey was a prized out-of-state recruit who Oregon State pursued late in the recruiting process. He played in Sandpoint, Idaho, where former Griz Vince Huntsberger had been an assistant coach in recent years, and he kept his commitment to Montana.
“Guys got to really love this place and feel good about it and feel it’s the place for him. Brandon is certainly that guy,” Hauck said. “He’s kind of like the Montana kids. They grow up wanting to play here. Brandon wants to play here. He grew up around it.”
Montana did land some big-time players on defense in the grouping of just six defenders. Washington safety Rishi Daniels is a 3-star recruit. Utah linebacker Chase Johansen was compared to former Grizzly and NFL linebacker Brock Coyle by Hauck.
The other defensive players are Grimsrud, Nuce, Utah cornerback Autjoe Soe and Bozeman linebacker Asher Croy. Croy ran for 330 yards in the State AA title game but is currently projected as a linebacker by the Griz.
In total, three players on defense and seven on offense came from outside the state.
“I think that’s the great think that you love about especially your out-of-state guys, most of them have come in with a chip on their shoulder,” Green said. “They thought they should have been recruited by this or that school and weren’t. Now they have the opportunity to kind of show that and you’re going to maximize them because they want to be good and they want to show everybody that they should have gone to a ‘bigger’ school.”
Hauck described the recruiting plan every year as getting good players at each position in an effort to build up depth with incoming high school graduates. This year, the Griz will have to replace five starters on offense, including quarterback Dalton Sneed, four on defense and three on special teams.
The anticipated next crop of headlining players in 2020 would either be those already on the team or college transfers. So don’t expect the players who signed Wednesday to be playing a huge role in filling those holes in 2020.
“You won’t see a ton of these guys until 2, 3, 4 years from now,” Green said.
The early signing period is open until Friday, and Hauck said there could be more players sign in that period. Mid-year junior college transfers can sign through Jan. 15. The regular signing period for Division I football will run from Feb. 5 through April 1.
Montana will soon shift its focus toward winter conditioning and then spring camp as it prepares for the 2020 season.
“We’re sad to see our senior class go, but I’m excited about moving forward with the next group and continuing to build our football team and our football program back into a team that’s to be reckoned with each and every fall,” Hauck said. “Part of that is signing good recruiting classes. I think we did that today.”
For bios on all the signees, log on to 406mtsports.com.