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Montana senior offensive tackle Mike Ralston is playing at his fifth position for the Griz in the past four years.

When Griz offensive lineman Cooper Sprunk heard teammate Mike Ralston would be transitioning to the line for his senior season, Montana's outspoken center was quick with a message of welcome.

"First thing I told him was, 'I can't wait to get fat with you,'" Sprunk quipped.

Now at his fifth football position in the past four years, Ralston is bulked up and ready to make his first major impact for the Grizzlies during his UM career. Tipping the scales north of 300 pounds, the 6-foot-5 Oregon native is taking snaps as Montana's first-string right tackle during spring practices this month.

That means he'd be in line to start for the Griz if the season opened today, something he hasn't done since a few sporadic starts as a tight end three years and 60 pounds ago. What's followed has been a winding path that's sent Ralston to the defensive side of the ball and back again.

When Bob Stitt replaced former head coach Mick Delaney and brought with him the spread offense, Ralston's tight end position was eliminated. So he became a defensive end. Half way through the 2015 season, injuries cut into UM's depth in the middle of the D-line. So Ralston moved to defensive tackle.

With a stacked depth chart on the line in 2016, Ralston transitioned back to offense as the big-bodied H receiver in Stitt's passing attack. Josh Horner is the returning starter there and Colin Bingham proved a more-than-capable backup at H toward the end of last season so...

"I figured I'd round it out on the O-line," Ralston joked. "... Playing all those positions, I definitely feel like I've gained a better understanding of the game in general."

Ralston's varied background has helped him climb the depth chart this spring, O-line coach Chad Germer explained. Ralston's tight end experience way back when is like a head start for run blocking, and his knowledge of rushing techniques from his D-end days gives him insight into effective pass blocking.

"To be quite honest with you he's come along even faster than I thought he would," Germer said. "... He's definitely found a home and he's got a ton of reps. He may have played more ball this spring than in all his time here combined."

Or at least close. After signing in 2013 and redshirting -- he and Sprunk were both tight ends in that February's recruiting class -- Ralston played in all 14 games in 2014. That included four starts. He caught four passes with a pair of touchdowns.

He appeared in just seven games with two tackles the next year while trying to pick up the defense. He played in four games last season but didn't have any receptions on offense.

"It was pretty hard at first just bouncing around," Ralston said. "I knew I could do it, but sometimes I felt like I never got the time and couldn't pick it up quick enough."

He's had plenty of time this spring, especially with three-year starting left tackle David Reese banged up and missing extended time. Ralston and redshirt freshman Thayne Jackson have each drawn first-string snaps instead of splitting them opposite Reese.

Staring down the end of his Grizzly career as a senior, Ralston is excited about the latest challenge he's facing on the offensive line. After dividing time between so many positions, he's throwing all 300-plus pounds of his effort and enthusiasm behind improving at offensive tackle.

After all, it's the last position he'll have to learn. Well, probably.

"I'll leave the quarterbacking to those guy," Ralston said with a smile.


NOTES: Griz junior DE Donald Bedell has left the program, a UM athletics official confirmed. Bedell made 10 tackles in 10 games last season and also recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown.

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