Simple math assures that 59 scholarships is less than 63, but even that feels pretty high for a coach that spent much of his career at the Division II level. Playing without a full allotment of scholarship was nothing new to Bob Stitt.

"... I came from small-college football," began Stitt, Montana's head football coach. "I came from a school that had 22 scholarships at a division that (allowed) 36 -- and we were winning a lot."

Stitt inherited a Grizzly program 2 1/2 years ago that was headed into its second season under scholarship reductions. Wednesday Stitt introduced 22 recruits as Montana's signing class of 2017, the first since the penalties that arose from a 2012-13 NCAA investigation expired.

The Griz are back to 63 full grant-in aid packages, the maximum allowed at the Football Championship Subdivision, after three years at 59. The time in the penalty box has left Montana with many roster holes to fill and Stitt and his staff went to work addressing them this winter.

Recruiting is a balancing act and Montana's rising-junior class was teetering on the edge. Fewer scholarships when those boys were coming out of high school led to fewer athletes signing in 2014 and even less who have stuck around. Stitt said when he took over just before New Year's Day 2015, the class shared hardly four scholarships.

Distributed evenly across five classes -- redshirts, freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors -- each group should carry about 12 scholarships with financial aid possibly split among multiple student-athletes.

"We had to continue to try and fix (it)," said Stitt, formerly of D-II engineering powerhouse Colorado School of Mines. "Our junior class is really, really low in scholarships and we're getting to the point where it's almost balanced out."

To do that Montana put its scholarship cavalry not into high schoolers recruits but mid-year college transfers for the signing class of 2017. The Griz inked four soon-to-be juniors earlier this winter to help balance the deficit.

Specifically Stitt's staff went after imposing run-stoppers -- Maryland drop-down defensive tackle David Shaw (6-5, 310) and junior college ends Chris Favoroso (6-3, 255) and Dylan Gilfoy (6-5, 252) -- and added another option at quarterback.

"We had a gap at the quarterback position," Stitt explained. "We've got a senior, we've got a freshman and we needed something in between so we brought a junior college quarterback in that's got two years (of eligibility remaining). He'll generate a little competition there and some depth also."

Caleb Hill (6-4, 205) out of Blinn College could play right away, challenging rising-senior Reese Phillips and redshirt freshman Gresch Jensen for the right to follow in departed starter Brady Gustafson's footsteps.

With the classes nearly evened out, next year could be where incoming freshmen see the most gain. Or, Stitt said, the Griz have the benefit of being able to bump the scholarships of some upperclassmen from partials to fulls.

All will be in play now that the final punishments have ended for the failures in monitoring that contributed to the removal of former head coach Robin Pflugrad and athletic director Jim O'Day in 2012. Montana also vacated 2011's Big Sky Conference championship, five wins and a playoff appearance in the ruling, which left the Griz on NCAA probation for three years.

The malfeasance pre-dated Stitt's arrival in Missoula and by many years. The coach played the hand he was dealt in his first two seasons leading the Griz. He's happy to add a few more cards to the deck for the next round.

"Things like that happen. You stay positive and you just keep grinding," Stitt said. "... There's so many schools that would love to have what -- they would trade four scholarships to have what we have out here and the fan base that we have."

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