For a big guy from a small school, an invitation to a postseason college all-star football game is all about boosting recognition.

Of course Montana fans may need some time to recognize homegrown Grizzly Zack Wagenmann when he suits up in the 2015 NFL Players Association Collegiate Bowl this weekend, too.

Fresh off a haircut that shed his signature blonde locks, Montana's record-breaking defensive end will mark the second Grizzly in two years to compete in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. Kickoff is slated for 2 p.m. Mountain on Saturday in Carson, California, and will air on ESPN2.

It's an opportunity for Wagenmann to strut his stuff against some of the best draft-eligible seniors in the country, FBS and FCS players alike.

"Oh God, I was so excited (to be selected); what an amazing opportunity," the Missoula Sentinel graduate said late last week from San Ramon, California, where he is training at California Strength ahead of April's NFL draft.

"Just a cool honor to even be selected," he continued. "There's so many amazing college football players, to be selected to the game is an immense privilege."

Former Griz linebacker Brock Coyle played in last year's NFLPA contest, picking up three tackles with one for a loss. After going undrafted, Coyle signed with Seattle.

"Just in visiting with Brock, I think Brock would tell you that getting to play in that additional game and getting that additional week of practice, I think he'd definitely say it helped him," Montana defensive coordinator Ty Gregorak said.

"Any additional exposure you can get is a positive thing, especially when you're a Montana boy and in the Big Sky and an FCS player. He gets to go play against FBS players, the best players, and showcase his talents."

It's the first major step in an offseason that Wagenmann hopes includes hearing his named called in the draft in a few months. Before then, the 6-foot-3 1/2, 250-pound defender is strictly focused on training -- and little else.

Wagenmann -- who donated his chest-length hair to Locks of Love before Christmas, his first haircut in four and a half years -- finished his course load at UM this past fall, putting the final touches on a bachelor's degree in communications.

"I hope to be getting a piece of paper in the mail to make me officially a college graduate," Wagenmann said with a laugh. "For me it's a unique experience because it's the first time I've been able to focus on solely football and not have to think about the school side of things."

His work at California Strength, a strength and conditioning gym in the Bay Area that also helped former Griz LB Jordan Tripp prep for the draft last winter (Tripp went to Miami in the fifth round), will add some extra muscle to the Lolo native's long frame while also attempting to enhance Wagenmann's agility.

"Speed is the name of the game," said Wagenmann, who landed on four postseason All-America teams following his senior campaign. "You want to be as fast as you can while being as heavy as you can."

The now-former Grizzly, who set single-season and career sack records for Montana with 17 1/2 and 34 1/2, will have less than two weeks of work at California Strength by the time he heads for Carson. He and his fellow players there will spend much of this week on site receiving an in-depth introduction to the NFLPA union -- the primary resource for information on the business of football, both during and after playing days.

That'll all come before Wagenmann takes the field next to players from all the FBS power conferences in the country, his Griz-paw-emblazoned helmet amid a sea of Michigan State, Cal, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and other recognizable brands.

"I'm sure I'll be asked where the hell that's from," he said, referring to his Grizzly digs, before chuckling.

"I'll let 'em know."


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Quick kicks: The NFLPA Collegiate Bowl will be held on the campus of California State University Dominguez Hills ... Live broadcasts from practices this week can be seen on ESPNU on both Wednesday and Thursday.

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