DE Zach Wagenmann
Aug. 14, 2012
Now in their second week of fall camp football drills, many of the players on The University of Montana Grizzly football team have already begun to make their marks, as they work towards earning starting berths or playing time.
One of the positions hit hard by graduation a year ago was the defensive line. The Grizzlies started four seniors on the D-line last season: ends Ryan Fetherston and Bobby Alt, while Bryan Waldhauser and Tyrone Duncan/Ben Hughes were at the defensive tackle spots.
Waldhauser was a first team All-Big Sky Conference selection last season, while Alt and Fetherston were honorable mention picks.
One thing that all four starters on the defensive front will have Sept. 1st when they line up against South Dakota in the 2012 season opener - it will be the first start ever for all of them.
Granted a couple of those projected starters do have some experience, but most of them have not seen a lot of action so far at Montana.
Despite that lack of experience, Griz defensive coordinator and linebacker coach Ty Gregorak and defensive line coach Legi Suiaunoa (pronounced: lang-ee....soo-kee-ah-no-uh) think they have a solid group of players at those four positions. They both think that a couple of true freshmen could be major contributors as well.
"This has been a very good group so far, in terms of their attitude and their approach to fall camp," Suiaunoa said. "Going in we knew we were inexperienced. I wouldn't say young, but I'd say inexperienced because they've been college football players for a year or so. In terms of games they haven't played a whole lot.
"I am happy with the group that I have," Suiaunoa said. "I think they are talented. Fall camp is big for this group. They need as may reps as they can get. They are getting more reps than they ever had before because of the group that we had last year. Right now we are kind of where I expected we'd be, with some room to grow."
A look at those spots, position-by-position:
RUSH END This is the one position at which the Griz do have a veteran, in Josh Harris, a 6-5, 251-pound senior from Kalispell. He had earned the starting job as a sophomore in 2010, but was injured in fall camp and missed that entire season. He played in all 14 games last season and was the team's 12th leading tackler for 43 stops. He has played in 29 career games and has 11.5 career tackles for loss.
"Josh Harris has played a lot of football," Gregorak said. "He's had some injuries that he's had to fight through, and he missed last Sunday's scrimmage with a deep thigh bruise. He's done a nice job for us. He's a big-body guy, in terms of putting a big defensive end on the tight end side. He's got to keep himself healthy and get back in the mix, but with help he should do a really nice job for us."
True freshman Caleb Kidder, who is 6-5, 260, and was Montana's Gatorade Player of the Year last season while a prep star for the state champion 12-1 Helena Capital High School Bruins, will back up Harris at the rush end spot. Last season he had 97 tackles, along with 13 sacks and six forced fumbles.
"Caleb Kidder is a true freshman and a big-body guy," Gregorak said. "I think he found out real quick the difference in going from AA high school football to college football in our first scrimmage. Caleb is doing a good job. I think he will be able to help us this year. Now the question is, will he help us at defensive end or do we move him inside to tackle. He will play this year, it's just a matter of us to finding a home for him."
DEFENSIVE TACKLE Junior Alex Bienemann (6-2, 295, from Regis Jesuit High School in Denver), who earned one of the two starting jobs at defensive tackle this past spring, has played in 14 career games the past two seasons and saw action as a true freshman in 2010. Last year he had 11 tackles in seven games.
"Alex was having a great camp, but took a good shot to his Achilles the other day, so he missed Sunday night under the lights scrimmage," Gregorak said. "Alex is extremely athletic for a guy his size. Now he just needs to keep getting more and more consistent. I think he's got as much ability as any D-tackle I have ever seen here. A lot of those guys - the Blake Horgans, the Johnnie Varonas, the Craig Mettlers, they had those intangibles that made them pretty special, and he needs to keep getting those intangibles. He's a guy who hasn't been thrown much in the fire, so he needs to get back and get all of the reps that he can."
Sophomore Trevor Rehm (6-3, 244, SQ., from Dillon) will back up Bienemann. Rehm was moved from linebacker to the line two springs ago and continued to get bigger and stronger.
"Trevor Rehm has worked hit butt off and he's going to help us inside," Gregorak said. "How much is still to be seen. He's a Dillon product who has worked himself into the opportunity to get some playing time for us."
Sophomore Tonga Takai (6-2, 301, from Damien Memorial High School in Waipahu, Hawaii) emerged as the starter and the other defensive tackle spot this past spring, and continues to impress his coaches.
"Tonga Takai (pronounced Tuck-eye) did a nice job in our first scrimmage," Gregorak said. "He's another big-body guy, and he's so powerful. He's probably not as sudden as Alex, but he's more powerful at the point of attack. He's another 300-pounder who is the prototypical college defensive tackle. He is having a very good fall camp for us.
"I think that with help, those two (Bienemann and Takai) inside should be very, very stout for us," Gregorak said. "As I said last spring, those two are what defensive tackles are supposed to look like at our level."
Two players who have never played a snap, redshirt freshman Jesse Ginn (6-5, 305, from Missoula's Hellgate High School) and sophomore Shawn Bradshaw (6-3, 256, SQ, from local Sentinel High School) are competing for the back-up role to Takai.
"Jesse Ginn has got to keep coming," Gregorak said. "He's a youngster who has got to figure out what he needs to do to become a college football player. He's got to keep working and just be a sponge with coach Legi and just keep learning the game of football. He's a tall man and he's got to learn to keep his pad level down. All that being said, he's pretty athletic for a guy his size.
"Shawn Bradshaw was moved over from the O-line to see if he could help," Gregorak said. "He's doing a good job. He's a hard worker and he's a tough kid. I am not sure if he can help us right now or not. Depending on our end position, Kidder might be an option there."
OPEN END Sophomore Zach Wagenmann (6-3 ½, 240) played in all 14 games as a redshirt freshman and his continued improvement earned him the starting job at UM's "open" end position. He had 13 tackles a year ago, and was named UM's "Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year" as a redshirt freshman in 2010.
"Wags is having a great camp," Gregorak said. "We stand Wags up in our odd front, or he comes out when we add a fourth linebacker. He's a tall guy with good speed. I think he's getting the physical aspect of the game and the position.
"He had a great summer, along with the guy behind him," said Gregorak, who was referring to redshirt freshman Derek Crittenden (6-3, 250, from Whitefish High School, Mont.). Derek's smart, he's been around for a couple of years, and he will help us this season."
True freshman Tyrone Holmes, a 6-4, 245-pounder from Eagle Point High School in Oregon, is the one player in fall camp who has everyone's attention. A gifted athlete, Holmes was not only named his league's co-MVP on defense last season, but he also had a rare double in Oregon's 5A state track meet, winning both the high hurdles and shot put, he also placed second in the discus throw.
"I am so fired up - we are lucky that we got him," Gregorak said. "Tyrone Holmes is going to be a man here at Montana. I told our staff this morning, that `not only will he be a game-changer in his career here and have a heck of a career, but I think he will be a game-changer for us this season as a true freshman.
"He's (Holmes) dynamic," Gregorak continued. "He's tall; he's rangy, he's sudden, he's got great burst. He's spending extra time with Coach Legi. He's turning heads - both the guys watching him and the guys that he's going by. I am very, very excited about the way he is playing football and about his potential.
"I think we have the potential to have a very solid career of D-linemen, but they are not very battle-tested," Gregorak continued. "Harris has been somewhat battle-tested. In terms of playing four quarters and playing 50 to 80 plays a game, these guys just haven't done that. Every rep in pre-fall and in our non-conference games is huge for these guys, because they just haven't had a bunch of them. We need to just go play. One of those guys needs to establish himself as the leader of that group, and I am hoping that it's Josh or Alex."
Gregorak said that freshmen defensive linemen Bo Harris (6-3, 260, from Fairfield HS, Mon.), Ryan Johnson (6-2 ½, 235, from Mountain View HS, Vancouver, Wash.), and Zach Peevey (6-3, 230, from Missoula's Hellgate HS), will all more-than-likely redshirt in 2012.
"The five young guys who we signed, Harris, Johnson, Peevey, Kidder, and Holmes, and Johnson - I am really pleased with that group," Suiaunoa said. "I think they all have a chance to be great football players for us. Tyrone and Caleb are two guys who came in who we felt could help us. This is probably one of the best D-line classes that I've ever been a part of."
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