Saturday’s night scrimmage for the University of Montana football team won’t fill the Grizzlies’ 25,200-seat stadium, but the effort is there to create a big crowd.
GrizKidz has set aside 500 free tickets (cost of admission is $5) for youngsters who want to see the Griz mix it up inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium. It’s also a big weekend to bring in prospective students and student-athletes who are going to be juniors in high school.
“We’ll have close to 300 parents and faculty here tomorrow,” added Griz coach Mick Delaney. “There are 180-200 faculty who have RSVP’d that they’re going to be here for the scrimmage and some of the things we’re going to do before; it’s going to be exciting.”
Delaney, named to replace the fired Robin Pflugrad on March 30, estimated the scrimmage will last between 90 and 110 plays.
“I told the (staff) this morning I’d like to get 100-plus plays because it’s the last true evaluation,” Delaney said Friday before the Griz had a closed evening practice. “A couple of them fell off their chair.”
Even then, at the Grizzlies’ pace of practice there could still be plenty of daylight left. Either way, the newly-installed stadium lights will be on and the “ones” will go against the “ones,” the “twos” against the “twos,” etc.
“We’ll go like the old coach’s cliché: Situations,” Delaney said. “Coming out, going in, red zone. We’ll have a kicking scrimmage at the beginning and we’ll incorporate some punts and field goals into the situations.”
“It should be exciting, if it gets dark enough,” said defensive end Josh Harris, smiling.
Saturday will be the 11th of 15 spring practices allowed under NCAA rules. The Griz have another scrimmage tentatively set for 10 a.m. the following Saturday.
* * *
Harris was among three Griz made available for media interviews Friday afternoon at the stadium. In the wake of Pflugrad’s firing, along with that of athletic director Jim O’Day on March 29, all three were happy to have football to come back to.
“It was a shock to us,” said Harris of the firings. “But at the same time we know these things happen in football. It was a big positive for us knowing that we had Coach Delaney coming in to run things. We’ve been around him a long time, he’s been around us and I think it’s a really good fit and good for our team chemistry that he’s on board.”
The players learned of Delaney’s return – he’d retired in early February – at the end of their March 30 practice. They then went on spring break.
Receiver Sam Gratton was pleased with the choice, especially under the circumstances – “As unfortunate as they were and as unusual as they were,” he said.
“Coach D has been here,” Gratton added. “We’re familiar with him and he is with the players, and he’s a great coach. We’ve seen it in action. It was kind of nice that they decided to stay in-house instead of bringing in somebody that we didn’t know.”
Delaney didn’t meet with the team until Tuesday morning of this week.
“He just kind of told us what he expected, what to expect from him and I think everyone bought into it real nice,” said Gratton. “And we’ve just been going at it pretty hard.”
“We’re focused on football and focused on getting better,” added linebacker Brock Coyle. “And I think we all understand and realize that.”
Harris, for one, was glad spring break came when it did.
“I think it helped to kind of let everybody cool down a little bit,” he said.
“For some of us it was kind of a lot of down time to have a lot on your mind,” Gratton added. “But for a lot of guys it really helped, to get away from it all.”
* * *
The goals appear not to have changed one note.
“I don’t think it ever changes,” Coyle said. “We have our goals and winning a Big Sky championship is definitely one of them.”
The Grizzlies lost 10 seniors on defense (two started at the same position), though the linebacker position is stacked.
Harris, a senior who had 9.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks last season, said the defensive line seems to be rounding into shape as well.
“(Zach) Wagenmann and (Derek) Crittenden are stepping up, and the D-tackles are doing well,” Harris said. “We just have to find some depth and right now, we don’t have that.”
* * *
In his last several months as the Grizzlies’ running backs coach, Delaney stayed at the Campus Inn. Currently he and his wife Cheri – she’s looking for housing – have been staying at the DoubleTree in a room with a view of UM’s campus.
Through that window Thursday night, the stadium lights reflected off the Clark Fork River.
“It’s breathtaking,” Delaney admitted. “It’ll be exciting to have night games.”
It won’t happen unless the Griz make the postseason. The idea of moving the Sept. 1 season opener against South Dakota to the evening was nixed. The Coyotes had agreed to play the Griz at 1 p.m. and made travel plans accordingly.
“No night games until the playoffs,” Delaney said.
The 69-year-old coach said returning to the sideline wasn’t a hard sell for his wife Cheri.
“No, but she’s crazier about football than I am,” he said. “She loves this stuff and always has. In 15 years at Colorado State (1993-2007) she missed two games – one for cancer surgery and one when her mother had surgery.”
* * *
QUICK KICKS: The GrizKidz tickets will be available at the main entrance at the north end of Washington-Grizzly Stadium. … There is a Grizzly Scholarship Association tailgate beginning at 4 p.m., with food and drinks available along with live music. … Gratton, who had arthroscopic knee surgery six weeks ago, has slowly been working into noncontact drills and could do the same Saturday. Gratton had 36 receptions last fall, tied for the lead on a team that went 11-3 and lost in the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals at Sam Houston State.