Montana may be in the process of paring down its roster after spring drills, but that didn't stop the Grizzlies from adding to their 2015 recruiting class.
Joe Paolina, a 6-foot-7, 289-pound offensive lineman, committed to Montana on Tuesday. Paolina will accept an academic scholarship and walk on with the football team.
"I am honored and blessed for this opportunity to become part of the Griz family!" Paolina announced on his Instagram account. "I'm ready to shock the world! I could not be more thankful."
With the addition of Paolina, Montana added seven offensive linemen in first-year head coach Bob Stitt's initial recruiting class.
That Paolina is playing Division I football is surprising to some, mostly those who saw him as an overlooked junior tight end at Poway (California) High outside of San Diego.
At the time, Paolina was 6-2 and 230 pounds and hoping to spend as much of his time on the field blocking rather than catching passes. Thanks to a growth spurt during the offseason between his junior and senior seasons that added 5 inches and nearly 60 pounds, that wish became a reality.
"It's one of those – for lack of a better term – freaks of nature," Poway head coach Damian Gonzalez said Wednesday afternoon. "It was just an amazing transformation."
Prior to the growth spurt Paolina went mostly unnoticed by college programs. In fact, Gonzalez didn't have him on the school's prospect list. That began to change near the season's midway point as Paolina was inserted along the offensive line at tackle.
"As a coaching staff the jury was still out on him so to say, but as he improved he did some great things for us," Gonzalez said.
Added Paolina of the move inside, "It wasn't that difficult because when I was a tight end, I loved to block. I just felt like blocking is my favorite thing to do, so I might as well move into tackle now that I have the size to do it."
As Division II programs came calling after the season, Paolina put together a highlight tape that he says was mostly for his own entertainment. A few days after finishing the product, he took another look and noticed it had nearly 400 views online.
"I was like, 'Wait, what's going on?' " Paolina joked.
Penn, San Diego and Azusa Pacific reached out and even Arizona State expressed some tempered interest, but it was Montana that stood out.
Paolina said he was randomly researching the Grizzlies' program after Stitt was hired in December and decided to email the new coach with his highlight tape and information.
When the email was sent, Stitt, coincidentally, was in California with running backs coach/recruiting coordinator Justin Green and offensive line coach Chad Germer. The four talked for more than an hour.
"I just felt like I was comfortable around them more than other coaches that I've talked with," Paolina said.
Germer's demeanor made an impression on the giant offensive lineman.
"He seemed like a pretty stern guy, but he reminded me of my offensive line coach at my high school right now," Paolina said. "He seems like he has a little funny side to him a little bit too, but he looks like he knows what he's doing and I appreciate that a lot."
Paolina estimates that he will move to Missoula sometime in July before he reports for fall camp on Aug. 1. According to Gonzalez, he'll come to Missoula well prepared physically for his second-ever season as an offensive lineman.
"He's very lean, he's not a heavy, dumpy guy, he's very well built," Gonzalez said. "He carries himself very well and is a kid who has dedicated himself to the weight room. ... He meets the eyeball test without a doubt.
"The sky is the limit, he has so much potential."