After fielding questions about under-performing special teams units all spring and summer, Montana head coach Bob Stitt was more than happy to address his kickers and punters following Monday's first fall football scrimmage.
"You guys have been asking me forever," Stitt said to a circle of media members. "Let's talk about kickers."
Much maligned through spring practices, during which Stitt's staff added several walk-ons in an attempt to find one or two feet to do the job, both the kickers and punters were on point during Monday's scrimmage. From a field of seven specialists, three have emerged as contributors for the 2016 season.
That's sophomore punter Eric Williams and redshirt freshmen kickers Tim Semenza and Brandon Purdy, all hoping to replace graduated punter Chris Lider and kicker Daniel Sullivan. And being among the three finalists is relieving both from a competitive and logistical standpoint, Purdy offered.
"It was pretty crazy in spring," said the Kalispell Glacier product, who joined the team over the winter. "There was tons of pressure. When we got live reps at the end (of practice) you were only going to kick once that day or maybe not 'til the next day."
While Purdy and Semenza remain in a battle for the right to boot field goals, Williams has grabbed hold of the starting punting duties. The Loyola Sacred Heart grad is "solid as a rock there," Stitt evaluated.
Williams grew up a Griz fan -- he estimates he took in well over 100 games from the stands -- and returned to Missoula as a transfer after kicking for NCAA Division III Carleton (Minnesota) College in 2014. He did not play in 2015.
"I came here on faith, basically," Williams said. "I had to have a lot of faith in myself to know that I could do this. I worked long hours, worked really hard, and it's starting to pay off."
The Griz utilized Williams as an emergency receiver in spring as well when they were in need of extra bodies. Williams caught passes while trying to grasp the offense and also manage his punting duties.
That tenacity did not go unnoticed by the Griz coaching staff.
"He's a local kid and he's dying to be a part of this football team. Being a Griz is an important thing," said Travis Niekamp, Montana's linebackers coach and special teams coordinator. "Luckily now we don't have to have him run routes. He's excited that he can just focus on punting and not learning the offense."
Because of his offseason work -- perhaps a narrowing of responsibilities didn't hurt either -- Williams has become more consistent in his craft in fall camp. He boomed a punt 59 yards in Monday's scrimmage, the kind of flash he showed in spring, but avoided any wobblers that can undercut a punter's yards per average.
"There's a lot of guys around the country who can hit the big ball, but when you make the jump to the next level it's all about how you can hit your B-plus ball," explained Williams, whose five punts averaged 45.6 yards Monday.
Likewise, both Semenza and Purdy spent their offseasons working to become more steady. Semenza even called upon kicking coach John Carney, a 25-year NFL veteran and Super Bowl champion, for guidance.
"He's a guy who can change just one centimeter on your steps and you'll be hitting the ball 10 times better," said Semenza, who traveled to Carney's gym in Carlsbad, California.
The results showed on Monday when the pair of Griz kickers went 3 for 3 on field goals, all from 47 yards or longer. Semenza drilled attempts from 49 and 48 yards while Purdy, a lefty, hit a 47-yarder.
Those kicks are a pretty close representation of what things have looked like behind closed doors in practice, Niekamp added.
"I think right now if we charted all their kicks, they're both between 85 and 75 percent, which isn't too shabby considering where we were four months ago," he said. "And 3 for 3 over 45? I'd take that any Saturday no matter where I'm at. If I was coaching in the NFL I'd take that."
The trio remains largely untested, though, and green in the way of live competition. There's still lots to improve on, Niekamp said, but the players have made impressive progress in a short amount of time.
You can see it in the hard results like field goals made, but Semenza said he can feel it even in his kicking motion.
"Kickers talk about, everyone's got a different swing," the San Diego native said. "I didn't have mine in spring, but I feel like I've got that again. It feels good to be back."
Montana started fall camp with four specialists. Redshirt freshman punter Patrick LeCorre is no longer with the team.