MISSOULA — Montana’s Vika Fa’atuiese went into the winter break knowing there was a good possibility that he could be playing on the defensive line in the spring.
But the senior who split time between fullback and linebacker last year didn’t know for sure that he’d be on the line until the first spring practice on Monday.
No matter the timing, he’s embracing the move as he prepares for his final season.
“I actually have no idea why they wanted me to move,” Fa’atuiese said after Wednesday’s practice, the first with full pads this spring. “They just said they needed me to and asked if I wanted to, and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do anything to help the team out.’”
The 6-foot-3 Fa’atuiese had never played on the defensive line aside from snaps on the Griz scout team. He was a linebacker and blocking tight end in high school in Vista, California, where said he “wasn’t the most athletic guy.”
After a redshirt year at Montana, Fa’atuiese spent the next two seasons at linebacker, making four starts at middle linebacker and playing in 21 games with 30 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and one fumble recovery. He moved to fullback last spring and later shifted to linebacker as a two-way player, but he finished the season with just four games played and didn’t record a stat.
“He’s one of those guys that he’s got good intellect in the classroom and football-wise,” Griz head coach Bobby Hauck said. “He can pick things up quick. He’s a veteran guy. He’s played a lot of years, so he can hop back and forth and plug himself into different spots. When you’re trying to crack the lineup, being versatile is a positive to get him in there.”
The defensive line is a position of need for the Griz after graduating two starters from last year. Montana has 12 defensive linemen on its spring roster, but just of two of them made three or more starts last year, and only four others played in five or more games.
Fa’atuiese went into last season weighing 225 pounds and slowly crept up to 230 pounds as he put on weight. With the potential change to defensive line, he worked on adding “good weight” after the season and checked in at 243 heading into spring practice.
“It’s been good,” Fa’atuiese said of practicing on the defensive line. “I love moving around. It hasn’t really been that bad. I just love learning football. The X’s and O’s are pretty cool. It’s just another position to learn and another perspective. It’s cool.”
The main focus for Fa’atuiese has been the technique of playing on the defensive line. He’s worked on quickening his first step, getting vertical off blocks and working through double teams.
Fa’atuiese felt his time at fullback and tight end helped him recognize how offenses would attack a defensive lineman in terms of blocking. Now he brings that knowledge to the defensive side as he tries to beat their blocks.
“He’s got good size, he tends to get off the ball pretty well, plays on the line of scrimmage decently,” Hauck said. “Hopefully, like everybody else, he gets better this spring, works his way into the lineup. He’s a tremendous guy and just a total team player, which is something we think highly of him.”
Hauck added that Fa'atuiese doesn't have a set position on the line and could move around with their different formations and packages.
As Fa’atuiese is preparing for his final season, he’ll take any opportunity presented to him as long as it’s in the best interest of the team.
“I just want to end up helping the team out,” Fa’atuiese said. “Anything for the team. Anything I can do to help, that’s what I’m willing to do. If they move me back to fullback because they feel that’s best, I’ll do that. Whatever they need, that’s what I’ve got.”
In 7-on-7 drills, sophomore wide receiver Gabe Sulser, a Billings Senior grad, made a twisting, leaping catch near the numbers in double coverage for a gain of about 35 yards.
Redshirt freshman safety David Koppang, a Loyola grad, intercepted Dalton Sneed.
During 11-on-11 scrimmages, redshirt freshman safety Nash Fouch picked off Sneed.
Sophomore running back Adam Eastwood had a 60-yard run, bouncing to the right and racing down the sideline.
Sophomore transfer running back Marcus Knight fumbled twice.
True freshman linebacker Cole Grossman had a 12-yard touch sack of backup quarterback Cam Humphrey.
Junior wide receiver Sammy Akem made a one-handed 5-yard touchdown grab, pinning the ball against his body.
Junior cornerback Dareon Nash picked off Sneed with a diving interception in the end zone.