MISSOULA — Montana will open its season at 7 p.m. MT Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium against North Alabama.
The following are key Lions players to keep an eye on during the game.
Quarterback: Christian Lopez
The 5-foot-11, 197-pound senior from Henderson, Nevada, began his second season as North Alabama’s quarterback by throwing for 290 yards with one score in an upset win over Western Illinois. Lopez took care of the ball in 2018, throwing for 2,184 yards with 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions in his first season with the Lions after transferring from Mesa Community College in Arizona, where he was second in the country for touchdown passes in 2017. He was named to the Big South preseason all-conference team as an honorable mention in 2019.
Running back: Terence Humphrey
The 6-foot, 229-pound fifth-year senior from Huntsville, Alabama, is North Alabama’s leading returning rusher. Humphrey was second on the team in rushing yards last season, picking up 290 yards and two touchdowns. He ran for 102 yards and one touchdown last week on his way to being named the Big South offensive player of the week. The Lions go with a rotation of three running backs that includes Ron Thompson and Ja’Won Howell while they try to find who their go-to guy will be. Thompson is a junior college transfer, and Howell is a redshirt freshman.
Wide receiver/tight end: Jakobi Byrd
The 5-foot-8, 190-pound sophomore from Florence, Alabama, broke out as a redshirt freshman in 2018 for his hometown team and comes into this season as a Big South preseason first-team all-conference wide receiver. Byrd was the Lions’ top receiver last season, hauling in 48 catches for 517 yards and five touchdowns. He averaged 57.4 yards per game and 10.8 yards per game. In the 2019 opener, he caught two passes for 25 yards with a long of 23 yards. The Lions have multiple receivers they can spread the ball around to if defenses try to lock down Byrd.
Offensive line: Ethan McMullan
The 6-foot-3, 278-pound junior from DeCatur, Mississippi, transferred from East Central Community College in the offseason. McMullan came in with the intention to help shore up a young offensive line that features six underclassmen on the two-deep. He’s currently listed as the starting right tackle on a line that includes one grad transfer, two players coming off a redshirt and one player who started six games for UNA last year. McMullan played quarterback, tight end, linebacker and long snapper in high school, and was a state champion tennis player.
Defensive line: Wallace Cowins
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound junior defensive end from Conyers, Georgia, brings FBS talent to the defensive front after dropping down from Coastal Carolina. Cowins tallied eight tackles and 0.5 TFLs in 10 games last year at Coastal Carolina after spending his first season at Georgia Military. He had two of the Lions' six tackles for loss, one of four sacks and two of three quarterback hurries in the season-opening win over Western Illinois while drawing double teams. He’s one of just two upperclassmen on the Lions’ defensive line two-deep along with Brady Owensby.
Linebacker: Jalen Dread
The 5-foot-10, 221-pound senior middle linebacker from Foley, Alabama, began his career in the SEC at South Carolina, where he started 10 games. Dread transferred to North Alabama after two seasons and has played in all 21 games for the Lions. He had eight tackles, one sack and one pass breakup in the season-opening win after finishing 10th on the team last year with 28 tackles, one quarterback hurry and no other stats. Dread centers a linebacker group of junior Will Evans on the strongside and redshirt freshman Jakob Cummings on the weakside.
Defensive back: K.J. Smith
The 5-foot-11, 187-pound senior strong safety from Perry, Georgia, gives the North Alabama defense another SEC presence after transferring from Georgia, where he was a member of the scout team. Smith played in all 10 games in 2018 and made eight starts, finishing with 49 tackles, the third-most on the team and the most among returners, and three tackles for loss. Making plays on the ball, Smith broke up five passes and had three interceptions that he returned for 79 yards. He’s one of three projected senior starters in the Lions’ secondary.
Special teams: Joe Gurley
The 6-foot-2, 216-pound junior from Killen, Alabama, handles both field goals and punts for North Alabama. Gurley was named the Big South special teams player of the week following the season opener in which he made a pair of field goals, including a long of 48 yards. In that game, he averaged 40 yards on seven punts with a long of 54 yards and placed two of them inside the 20-yard line. Gurley had primarily handled punting duties and occasionally kickoff duties each of the past two seasons. True freshman Sam Contorno handled kickoffs in the first game.