MISSOULA — Montana redshirt freshman Garrett Graves doesn’t know what the future holds for him in terms of where he’ll be playing on the field.
The Eureka native was recruited under the catch-all term “athlete,” redshirted in 2018 and has played exclusively on special teams this season. He’s embraced that role in punt and kick coverage, making tackles in space and laying a bone-crushing hit or two on a return man.
Graves is a 6-foot-3, 202-pounder who lined up everywhere on offense and defense except for defensive tackle, offensive line and tight end in high school. He made a good impression at quarterback in the spring, and Hauck said Graves could “probably play eight positions for us on defense and five on offense” but later said in fall camp that “we’re not switching him to defense or anything right now. We’re trying to let him continue to develop at quarterback.”
Hauck said recently that if a position move were to be made, it wouldn’t happen during the season.
Graves sat down with 406mtsports.com to talk about his time at Montana so far:
Q: What have you thought of Eureka’s run in the playoffs to the State B (semifinals)?
A: It’s awesome. I have a lot of really good buddies on that team that are just kicking butt right now. They’re looking really strong. I’m really hoping for a championship from them. Definitely watching every week and cheering them on. It’s really cool. Hopefully they bring another one to Eureka because that’s huge for the town.
Q: Were you a Griz fan growing up?
A: My dad got his master’s from MSU actually, but my mom graduated from UM and we were never allowed to wear Cats stuff growing up. So, yeah, I’d say growing up I was a Griz fan for sure.
Q: What has it meant to you to be a Grizzly for the past two seasons?
A: I think it’s really big for me but also my family and my community (in Eureka). I can tell how important it is for all them, and that makes it even more special for myself. From a personal standpoint, it’s really awesome living out my dreams. I have letters to myself from my freshman year that my English teacher in high school kept for me. That was one of my goals that I wrote down at the time. Just reading back and reflecting on that was really cool. But then also my whole family and community saw me growing up with that dream and passion, and I know that them seeing me live it out is very cool for them, and it means more to me because of that.
Q: The fans here seem to love seeing you, especially with that big hit on Eastern Washington’s punt returner. Do you have a favorite memory in your time on the field so far?
A: That hit, probably from a personal standpoint, was really cool for me. I was pretty fortunate on my one big play that there’s about six camera angles on it. That was really nice. It’s always fun to have a little clip of yourself doing something good. But just getting on the field is always fun. It’s just super exciting to be able to be out here and part of it on Saturday.
Q: What type of mentality do you need to play on special teams?
A: They have a saying that says, “A man that has no fear belongs in a mental institution or on special teams.” That’s one coach Hauck likes to use. I’m sure that you could use that for the mentality that you need on special teams. But also it’s a little bit of a game keeping yourself loose when you go out there. Luckily for us, the way special teams is broken up is if you’re on all of them you’re nicely spread out throughout the game. It’s you stay warm and go in for a burst and come out and go back in for a burst and come out. It works out well.
Q: What’s your mindset and what are you evaluating when you’re running down the field to tackle a returner?
A: I have a lot of things depending week to week. You’re trying to read the blocks if you’re tackling. If you’re on the blocking end of things, you’re trying to read the guys running down on you. It definitely changes in the game plan week to week. I think we drill everything so much in practice that it’s definitely instinctual, so when you’re out there you’re not really thinking, you’re reacting.
Q: Have the coaches talked to you at all about what the future holds in terms of your position?
A: Not really. We’re just kind of floating around just trying to do what I can do for the team at the moment. Right now, that’s special teams. If my opportunity comes to play a little at quarterback, then I’ll play there. But if not, I’m sure we’ll find a fit where I can help our team out. Right now, my fit is on special teams.
Q: Is there a position where you’d prefer to play?
A: Anything that they’ll let me play, I’ll play it. I’m pretty open to positions.
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Q: Some fun ones to close. You were a state-champion wrestler, so who would be the toughest person on the team to wrestle, at least in your weight class?
A: I always default to (Gabe) Sulser would be a good wrestler in his weight class just because he did it in middle school and I know he was pretty good. In my weight class, that’s a tough one. There’s not a lot of guys that are my size.
Q: Is there anyone else on the team who you think would make a good wrestler?
A: We have so many tough, strong guys on our team. I’m sure a lot of them reside on the defensive side of the ball. I’m sure Jesse (Sims) would definitely hold his own in his weight class. I’m sure guys like Tyler Flink and Jace Lewis and Dante (Olson) would hold it in their weight class. I think our defensive side of the ball is really tough. I believe they’d all be really good wrestlers.
Q: Does any wrestling experience translate over to the football field?
A: 100%. I think a lot of the mentality coming into lifting and winter conditioning is from wrestling. But then on Saturdays on the field, just kind of having that no-fear mentality from wrestling, a one-on-one situation, you go out there and it’s you vs. the other man. On special teams, that’s been valuable for me because it’s been a lot of one-on-one matchups for me. That comes into play.
Q: If you weren’t playing football, what sport would you be doing?
A: Honestly, wrestling isn’t that fun. I was pretty good at it, but it’s definitely not the most enjoyable. I actually played a lot of men’s league basketball in high school. I probably would have wrestled in college just because of where I came from.
Q: Who would play Garrett Graves in a movie about your life?
A: Hopefully some tall, good-looking guy. I’d hope they’d star me in there. I took a little intro to acting my freshman year.
Q: How did that class go?
A: I loved it. I loved it. I had a good time in there. Hopefully I could get on my own set.
Q: What’s your favorite type of music?
A: I have a wide range. I really like R&B-influenced hip-hop. But I also like old-school country. No new-school country. All old-school. Hank Williams, that’s what I grew up on with my dad. And then rock gets me going.
Q: Why jersey No. 5?
A: I was No. 1 in high school, and we don’t wear No. 1 here. On my official, I just decided to pick a different number and it was on the rack to take pictures with, so I just grabbed it. I always liked No. 5 on Reggie Bush. I like single-digit numbers. I decided to grab it and put it on for the pictures. Seven was going to be my next pick, but I knew Sulser was going to get that.
Q: Did Gabe already take No. 7, or did you leave it for him?
A: I left it for him. I mean, I respected him definitely as higher up on the recruiting list when we were coming in.
Q: Lastly, what’s it been like playing for Bobby?
A: I really love the intensity and the competitiveness from him. I think it’s really special this year, especially for me playing on special teams and getting to work with him every day. That’s definitely my favorite part about being on a team coached by him is we’re tough and the special teams is very fun. I think that the competitiveness of our team and the toughness of our team is really big for me.