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Griz open spring drills

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MISSOULA -

The Montana Grizzlies officially kicked off a new football season on Monday, donning helmets for the first time this year, and launching Bob Stitt’s second season as head coach with the opening of spring ball. 

Stitt and company return to the field with the ultimate goal of extending Montana’s record of 23 appearances in the NCAA 1-AA/FCS Playoffs, and advancing to the championship. They're coming off an 8-5 campaign ending with a third-straight postseason appearance and fa No. 14 ranking in the final STATS FCS media poll.

After a month of cold morning workouts under the lights, the Griz trained on a warm Montana spring afternoon in the first of 14 practices that will culminate in the annual Spring Game.

Stitt and his staff felt at ease taking the field compared to 12 months ago when the program and players were still unknown quantities.

“Much more comfortable, and we’re feeling like we know the players and they know us,” said Stitt.  “One of the players said today that they are so excited for spring ball, and you don’t hear that very often around the country.”

Montana returns 28 letter winners and five all-conference performers from last year’s team that tied for second place in the Big Sky Conference. Those returners will lead a robust 31-player recruiting class (one of the largest in program history), seven of which are now on campus and participating in spring drills as transfer students.

According to Stitt the first week of spring ball will hinge on installing new systems as quickly as possible.

“Offensively we’ll install 100 percent of it in two days with a walk through, and then we’ll get on a three day install," Stitt said. "Hopefully the kids really get comfortable in the first week, and understand it. By spring break, when we take a break, they’ll have a great handle on it. Defensively, it will be a little bit longer install.”

“In this type of offense, you put so much on the quarterback, having a year under their belt, they’re going to be able to get us into plays that they were never able to do last year,” Stitt added.

“It’s just banking knowledge, banking reps every single day, and I’m really looking forward to seeing these guys compete”

Brady Gustafson is listed at the starting quarterback. He started seven games last season while dealing with injury, Chad Chalich, who started two games in Gustafson’s absence before dealing with his own injury, and Eric Prater, who redshirted last season are also in the mix, along with transfer QBs Reese Phillips (Kentucky), and Connor Kaegi (Feather River College).

“Brady’s our guy until someone beats him out. Competition is good for everyone,” added Stitt.

This year’s spring game is set for Saturday, April 23, at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

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