Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Awaiting the return of Griz DOLA

Daily Inter Lake | August 3, 2023 12:00 AM

The acronym used in the 2000s, when the Montana Grizzlies were blowing open lanes for the likes of Lex Hilliard and Chase Reynolds, was DOLA.

Dominant offensive line attitude was the motto of a group that was big, good and deep.

At one time, during the 2007-09 high-water mark of head coach Bobby Hauck’s first tenure, the Griz had four oversized Montanans up front: Chris Dyk, Terran Hillesland, Colin Dow and Alex Verlanic.

Before that the likes of Kalispell’s Dylan McFarland and Whitefish’s Thatcher Szalay were moving d-linemen around.

That’s not to mention Oklahoma transfer JD Quinn, and Oregon transfer Levi Horn, and the list goes on. I like those guys; they’re great quotes. Maybe not Quinn, who was media-shy, but future NFLer Cory Procter once said, “Shoot for the stars, land on the moon!” at a press conference and man, those were the days.

What happened? Well, Hauck’s departure for UNLV after the 2009 season left incoming coach Robin Pflugrad scrambling for recruits, and Mick Delaney did his best for three seasons, and three seasons after that the Bob Stitt Era ended with a 31-23 loss to the Bobcats and a dearth of “big uglies.”

“We had a pretty well documented shortage of O-linemen,” Hauck, who replaced Stitt after the 2017 season, said last week. “Right now — I mean, I’m not the official historian of Grizzly football, but I have a pretty good background in it — this is the best offensive line, at least on paper, how they’ve performed, how many games they’ve played, since ‘08 or ‘09.”

That’s a bold statement, but six guys that started up front last season are back.

Center AJ Forbes transferred up from Nebraska three seasons ago and liked it so much that another Cornhusker, tackle Chris Walker, came up and started all 13 games last season.

Washington State transfer Hunter Mayginness and Idaho native Brandon Casey started every game in 2022; sophomores Journey Grimsrud and Liam Brown split 13 starts at guard.

“I think we’re in a unique situation, where we not only have the five starters,” Forbes said, “but we have guys like Liam Brown, who started the first half of last season before he got hurt, and a ton of other players in terms of depth.”

The Griz are picked to finish third (media) and sixth (coaches) in a Big Sky Conference that got deeper during Hauck’s absence. A punishing offensive line is often synonymous with upper-division finishes, and the Griz — who have more depth in a junior from Whitefish named Dillon Botner — would like both.

Montana State is picked to finish first, and it’s hard to argue with a program that, among other things, scored on its first two drives in last November’s Cat-Griz game without bothering to throw a pass.

“I always had the belief that our offensive success would start with that group’s ability,” MSU coach Brent Vigen said last week. “The biggest thing from my experience at Wyoming and NDSU is you’d better have the mindset that your success on offense starts there.”

The Cats have a new offensive line coach, former NFLer Al Johnson, and a stud in Rush Reimer.

The Griz have veterans Alex Germer and Rob Phenicie coaching their group, which has 81 starts and a center that pushes back at the idea his guys were in need of a rebuild.

“When I came in there was, as far as public perception, a lot of thought about how the offensive line could’ve been better,” Forbes said. “I thought there was a really talented group of guys really working hard to improve that stigma, or whatever you want to call it.”

Then he dropped the magic acronym.

“DOLA,” Forbes said. “Working up to that mantra has been a goal for us for a long time.”

Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 758-4463 or fneighbor@dailyinterlake.com.