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Montana receiver Chase Naccarato runs for yards.

The Montana Grizzlies have been adding recruits on almost a daily basis recently, the class of 2016 up to 22 commitments with less than a week before National Signing Day.

That's a haul of players the Griz hope to keep from straying in the final days, but the class could balloon even further because of some recently freed-up scholarship money.

The exits of a handful of 2015 underclassmen has aided the hunt for the next big thing, adding scholarships to those already open due to graduation. What was about 15 scholarships -- Montana is in its final recruiting season at 59 rather than a full 63 because of NCAA sanctions -- is now closer to 20 as head coach Bob Stitt and his staff find the players that fit their system best.

All gone from last year's roster and the school are scholarship players like receivers Chase Naccarato and Ellis Henderson, safety Manu Rasmussen, cornerback Chris Parker and quarterback Willy Pflug. Walk-on kicker Danny Peoples has also left.

Naccarato, a 5-foot-7 receiver who was going to be a redshirt senior next fall, has transferred to Whitworth College in his hometown of Spokane. The Pirates play at the NCAA Division III level in athletics.

Naccarato started eight games for Montana at the "Z" slot receiver position, catching 41 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown. He didn't catch any passes in UM's final five games, though, failing to even appear in its second-round playoff loss to North Dakota State.

Rasmussen, a 6-footer who was Montana's season-opening starter at strong safety, will transfer to Riverside City (California) College when spring semester begins there next month. Riverside is a junior college.

The Tigard, Oregon, native was replaced in the starting lineup by Yamen Sanders in Week 2, but Rasmussen still appeared in 12 games and had 17 tackles. He was going to be a redshirt sophomore with the Griz.

Chris Parker and Willy Pflug, who the Missoulian reported in December were cut following the conclusion of the season, have both found landing spots as transfers.

Parker will play at South Dakota State near his hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. As an FCS-to-FCS transfer, he will have to sit out the 2016 campaign, his redshirt junior season. Parker made 10 tackles while appearing in nine games last fall.

Pflug, who graduated early from Portland's Sunset High School to enroll at UM and participate in spring practices last year, has transferred to FCS Jacksonville (Florida). Similar to Parker, Pflug will have to sit out a year with the Dolphins, who play in the non-scholarship Pioneer League. 

Pflug redshirted last fall and did not appear in any games.

Peoples, who was on Montana's roster as a kicker, announced his transfer to NAIA Montana Tech last month where he will play quarterback. The walk-on redshirt who redshirted last year played both positions at Butte Central High.

Henderson confirmed his exit earlier this month on social media, leaving school early to enter the NFL draft because of academic issues that would have harmed his eligibility this fall. After battling depression and irritable bowel syndrome in 2014, he was granted another year of eligibility. The 2016 season would have been his sixth in college, his final redshirt senior campaign.

He caught 49 passes for 817 yards and seven TDs in 2015.


The unplanned departure of Henderson and Naccarato adds to an already expected overhaul of the wide receiver position for the upcoming season. With graduates Jamaal Jones and Ben Roberts, the Griz lose their top four pass catchers.

The Griz also lost Ryan Burke, a redshirt junior last fall, to retirement due to concussion issues. Burke caught seven passes for 49 yards in brief appearances over five games.

Those five Grizzlies combined for the vast majority of Montana's receiving production, Jones leading the way with 75 catches, 1,217 yards and 11 scores. Their pooled statistics accounted for 74.8 percent of the team's catches (238 of 318), 81.6 percent of its yards (2,977 of 3,647) and a whopping 96 percent of the receiving touchdowns (24 of 25).

That means Montana's leading returning receiver isn't a receiver at all. Running back John Nguyen snagged 31 passes for 159 yards out of the backfield as the team's No. 1 running back.

The Griz have 14 other returning receivers, though most are very young. The 2016 group consists of two juniors (Josh Horner and Josh Janssen), four sophomores and eight freshmen who redshirted last year.

Montana's incoming recruiting class has commitments from five receivers as well, including Blinn (Texas) College transfer James Homan, who is already on campus ready for his junior season.

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