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Walk-ons now earning full scholarships

Seniors Jeramiah Butenschoen and Corey Mertes are right where they want to be.

It's a place many coaches and fans probably never thought they could reach.

Butenschoen, a 6-foot, 265-pounder, and Mertes, a 6-1, 280-pounder, are vying for a starting spot at defensive tackle for the University of Montana football team.

Both came to the Grizzlies as undersized walk-ons. Mertes currently receives a full scholarship and next fall, so will Butenschoen.

"That's a big thing," Butenschoen said. "That's pride factor. I can tell people I've got a full-ride to the University of Montana."

Butenschoen, or "Boots" as his teammates call him, was a standout in football, track and wrestling for Billings Skyview. He was named all-state on offense and defense his senior year, but because he weighed just a shade over 200 pounds and was barely 6 feet tall, the Grizzlies weren't ready to offer him a scholarship.

"I understood that," Butenschoen said. "Basically, they didn't want to take a risk on me."

Butenschoen opted to play at the University of Mary, an NAIA school in Bismarck, N.D. He started immediately and helped the Marauders advance to the playoffs. But something wasn't right.

"I started right away and it felt like high school," he said. "It was the same caliber almost. I figured I'd just try and move up. My high-school coach (former Griz Rob Lebsock) had an influence on that. I figured I'd come here and see what I got.

"The first year, I just wanted to make the team and get a place here. After that, I was shooting for playing time."

Butenschoen said he's gained about 45 pounds since he arrived at UM and he's one of the strongest players on the team. He recently bench-pressed 425 pounds and put up 225 pounds in 25 consecutive repetitions.

"I'm not that heavy compared to the offensive lineman," Butenschoen admitted. "I've got good quickness and knowledge of the game. I know what I'm doing out there."

Butenschoen had three tackles last season, but sustained an ankle injury in the second game and didn't see much action after that.

An injured ankle two seasons ago by starting defensive tackle Kelley Bryant allowed Mertes his first opportunity to shine.

Mertes registered 25 tackles and two sacks as a sophomore and was named the team's most improved player. Last season, he had 29 tackles - seven for losses - and four sacks.

Mertes, a graduate of Great Falls High, arrived at UM as a 215-pound linebacker. Several Frontier Conference schools offered him scholarships, but he wanted to be a Grizzly.

"It was definitely a long road," Mertes said. "I had to learn a totally new style of play. It's a lot different down in the dirt with a guy on top of you all the time."

"When I came out of high school I weighed 215," he added. "I've gained almost 50 pounds. It was tough. I went on a see food diet. You see food and you eat it."

"Both guys have good strength and quickness," said UM defensive line coach Tom Hauck. "Neither one of them are very tall, but they don't have to be as long as they've got those other attributes."

Butenschoen started in last week's scrimmage at Great Falls, but Mertes has more game experience. Neither one is very concerned about who is the starter next season, because both will see plenty of playing time.

"Either way it doesn't matter," Mertes said. "Both guys are going to play half the game; it's not a deal where the starter is going to play the whole game. Around here it's almost physically impossible to play the whole game and be effective."

"It's a big thing to start," Butenschoen said. "But you get to play pretty much the same amount of time if you're second string."

Griz scrimmage

When: Saturday, 10 a.m.

Where: Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

The facts: The Grizzlies hold the second of three spring scrimmages. It'll consist of roughly 70 plays.

Joe Glenn says: "It will be more of a game-type scrimmage in that we will have a 25-second clock and our coaches will be working from the press box (calling plays). We'll probably run some goal-line situations, too."

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