Griz offense loaded with veterans

Griz offense loaded with veterans

(This is the first of a three-part series previewing the Montana Grizzly offense, defense and kicking game.)It's not just at quarterback.

There'll be experience everywhere on the Montana Grizzly offense this football season.

Ten of 11 starters Saturday night at Stephen F. Austin have started games in the past, and there are even battle-wise reserves: Chase Raynock and Matt Theusen on the line, Nate Sanders at halfback, Dallas Neil and Nate Sil at tight end, and Jim Farris and Matt Thompson at wide and inside receivers.

Quarterback Brian Ah Yat distinguished himself on a national level as a sophomore, passing for 3,615 yards and a school-record 42 touchdowns in the regular season. His numbers last season dropped to 2,691 yards and 21 TDs, in part because of a knee injury in the opener that reduced his playing time by more than two games.

"Brian has exhibited to us that his senior year is very important to him," Grizzly coach Mick Dennehy said. "He's done some things in the off season that proved that to us, in terms of his weight room work and staying around in the summer time."

Perhaps the biggest question surrounding the team is what happens if Ah Yat goes down. Dennehy said he has confidence in backup Sean Davis, but the sophomore has had little live action.

The offensive line, mostly new a year ago, returns four starters: guards Randy Allik and Leif Thorsen, center Paul Mocko and tackle Scott Curry. The new regular is 6-foot-4, 295-pound sophomore Kamakana Kaimuloa of Honolulu. Kaimuloa graded out well in relief roles as a freshman.

Curry, honorable mention all-Big Sky last year, is an All-America candidate this time as a 6-foot-5, 290-pound senior. He was the third tackle for the 1995 national championship team and has started since the 1996 opener. At left tackle, he's usually matched against an opponent's best pass rusher.

Offensive coordinator Brent Pease called the 6-foot-2 Allik "a junkyard dog kind of guy" and said he could be one of the best guards in the Big Sky. Allik, a Missoula Hellgate graduate who switched from defense two years ago, is up to 280 pounds for his senior season.

The top three receivers from a year ago return. Junior Travis Walker and seniors Raul Pacheco and Justin Olsen are all trying out new positions, which should give them more chances to break big plays. Junior Jeremy Watkins is perhaps the fastest of the bunch, and sophomores Jim Farris is potentially the most explosive.

Senior Brian Gales and Sanders, a junior, will share most of the repetitions at halfback.

"They're probably typical of the running backs we've had in the past - not super, super flashy but dependable," Dennehy said. "They can run the ball, break tackles, make big plays, block very well and they can catch the ball very well."

Gales spent most of '97 playing behind Josh Branen, and his numbers won't strike into opponents' hearts. He carried only 33 times for 99 yards, down from 64 totes in '96 and 39 as a freshman in '95.

Dennehy said Gales got caught up in a situation where Branen was so often the "hot hand" it was difficult to turn to anyone else.

"Now he becomes the guy," the Grizzly coach said.

Gales, who returned kickoffs his first three seasons, is a breakaway type who has caught 31 passes in the past two seasons. He burned Eastern Washington with a 74-yard touchdown catch and run last year. In nine playoff games he has scored six touchdowns and averaged a healthy 5.7 yards a carry.

Sanders, a power runner, complements Gales' scatback ways. The 6-foot, 190-pounder from Anaconda, was second on the team in rushing behind Branen with 62 carries for 252 yards in 1997.

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