PARK CITY, Utah -- James Cowser knows defense -- he's the Big Sky Conference's preseason defender of the year after all -- so when another tackler leaves an impression on the Southern Utah standout, you know it must have been significant.
Take fellow defensive end and Montana senior Tyrone Holmes for instance.
"I remember he had a beast play against North Dakota because we were just about to play them," Cowser said Monday from Park City, the site of the Big Sky Conference Football Kickoff media days.
"He crushed the tackle, blew up a fullback and got a forced fumble."
The only problem? Holmes didn't have a forced fumble in that game. Zack Wagenmann did. And a fumble recovery.
He was Montana's other edge rusher, now in the Arizona Cardinals' camp.
"When I was watching Montana, I was watching Wagenmann a little more," Cowser admitted.
It's OK; Holmes is used to hearing it after starting opposite the Grizzlies' all-time sack leader for two years. This fall, it's his time to shine.
"I've waited a while and it's definitely time," said Holmes, an honorable mention selection to the Big Sky's all-conference team after his junior season. "I'm excited to step up and be the leader.
"It's been a long time coming."
Holmes and Wagenmann combined for 25 sacks last fall, with Holmes' load 7 1/2. The Eagle Point, Oregon, native added 14 tackles for loss. Those numbers should each swell with the 6-foot-4, 250-pound rusher now the focus on the Grizzlies' defensive line effort.
Players from around the league will soon be taking notice. Some already are.
"That's how it is at Montana, at our Montana state schools; there's always a next guy stepping up," said Montana State quarterback Dakota Prukop. "People are always thinking, 'Who's the next so-and-so? Who's the next DeNarius McGhee, the next Zack Wagenmann?'
"It's no surprise this year."
The combination of Holmes and Montana's veteran linebacking unit -- seniors and starters Kendrick Van Ackeren, Jeremiah Kose and Herbert Gamboa are all back -- will make for some scary defensive fronts, Eastern Washington wide receiver Cooper Kupp added.
"Them more than anyone, they'd do some stuff -- especially playing them twice (in 2014) -- you know you were playing Montana," said Kupp, whose team got the best of the Grizzlies two times, including once in the playoffs.
But soon, opponents will know they're playing Tyrone Holmes.
Any news on No. 37 yet?
Holmes just laughed. He's as curious as anybody at this point.
"I keep asking Wags every day. He's playing hard to get," Holmes said.
Since Wagenmann walked off the football field last December, his final time wearing Montana's No. 37 legacy jersey, inquiring minds have prodded the UM grad as to whom he'll pass the heralded digits.
The jersey has marked the best of home-bred talent since running back Kraig Paulson handed it off to Big Timber's Tim Hauck for the 1987 season. Paulson is also the last offensive player to have worn the jersey.
Which leaves Wagenmann with a couple Montana choices. Perhaps one of the seniors Derek Crittenden (Whitefish), Connor Lebsock (Billings) or Jake Dallaserra (Butte)? Maybe juniors Caleb Kidder (Helena) or Bo Harris (Fairfield) or Zach Peevey (Missoula)?
"I'd pick myself," Holmes joked. "No, honestly I don't know. He has a tough decision to make, probably why it's taking him so long."
Prukop proving in Cats' offense
A year after having the second most efficient passing season in the country, Prukop thinks he and Montana State are bound for even better things.
STATS FCS agrees, having named the junior to its offensive players to watch list.
It all started when the team finally settled on a quarterback to replace the graduated DeNarius McGhee, the four-year signal-caller under center during MSU's major rejuvenation recently. Prukop won out last spring to become a first-year starter and proved his coaching staff right for the choice.
He threw for 2,559 yards and 18 scores as a sophomore, completing 65 percent of his passes versus a mere six interceptions.
"You could say the defining moment for our offense was finally selecting a quarterback after such a long battle," said Prukop, who won the job over then-junior Jake Bleskin and freshman Quinn McQueary days before MSU opened its 2014 slate.
"Once that was decided," he continued, "the offense kinda rolled with it. There's no ceiling for this offense."
Montana State's O' is one of many in the Big Sky that ranked near the head of the Football Championship Subdivision in 2014. The Cats were ninth at 488 yards per game, one of five league teams in the top six -- Idaho State (second) led the pack at 562 ypg with Eastern Washington (third) at 513 ypg.
Prukop credits third-year offensive coordinator Tim Cramsley -- recently the topic of a FOXSports.com article that anointed MSU as the best offense in all the land -- with the development.
"He's become a mad scientist back at his office at work," Prukop said. "What's the next step in college football? He leads that kind of pack."
Mo' hair, mo' tackles
Cowser is easy to pick out of a lineup, and not just because of his 6-foot-4 frame that carries 258 pounds. He has the kind of 'do that would remind Griz fans of Wagenmann, their own recent great.
"That hair," Prukop said, smiling and shaking his head. "That's kind of a defensive thing in this league, I guess."
After Wagenmann and his locks won Big Sky defensive player of the year honors last season, Southern Utah's Cowser and his cascading blonds got the preseason nod for the same award.
The Utah native is just 12 tackles for loss away from the Big Sky career record (73) held by former Idaho State DE and longtime NFL pass rusher Jared Allen. Considering he had 28 1/2 last year, another Big Sky record, cooking up a baker's dozen shouldn't be too hard with a full, healthy season.
The SUU grad -- he's currently enrolled in the school's master's of communications program -- isn't afraid of the kind of offenses the Big Sky throws at his T-birds week after week either.
"Love it. I love playing the big offenses," he gushed. "Two years ago when we were shutting down offenses that were supposed to be greeeeeat? I love that feeling."
No name NoDak
North Dakota linebacker Will Ratelle isn't paying as close attention as most to the school's hunt for a new nickname.
"I think they're supposed to have one soon, right?" he said. "I don't even know what the options are, but I know it is important to a lot of people."
With the list narrowed to seven -- Fighting Hawks, Green Hawks, Nodaks, North Stars, Roughriders, Sundogs or the succinct and simple North Dakota -- even those without much interest still have an opinion, though.
"I think Fighting Hawks sounds pretty cool," he pondered. "It'll be exciting when the name finally comes out. The Sioux nickname was only here my freshman year when we dropped it."