MISSOULA — After standing out in five straight games, Montana's ever-improving freshman quarterback Gresch Jensen was nominated for the Jerry Rice Award watch list on Wednesday.
The Jerry Rice Award is presented to the FCS freshman player of the year ahead of the FCS national championship game in January.
"I have good support staff around me with my coaches and players," Jensen said. "It's awesome to even be mentioned in that. I know they deserve it as much as anyone else. It's awesome to even be mentioned in that conversation. Truly humbling."
Since Jensen was elevated to the starting position, he has earned four honorable mention nods for the National Freshman of the Week award — the second-most of any freshman for the entire 2017 season.
Jensen has completed 61.2 percent of his passes (109 of 178) for 1,630 yards with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. On the ground, Jensen has 33 carries for 115 yards with four touchdowns.
"The awards take care of themselves when everybody does their jobs," Montana head coach Bob Stitt said. "Obviously certain guys on the team are going to be singled out and get those. It's a testament to how our whole team is playing, especially the offensive line. Really proud of our team that one of our guys is getting recognized for a national award.
"He stepped in and is playing like a veteran immediately. We knew he had that in him. We just didn't think that would happen for another year.
Jensen's dominance thus far has re-written the Montana freshman quarterback record book. Of the 10 best games in terms of passing by a true or redshirt freshman quarterback, Jensen has five of them — including the top four.
His 423-yard, three-passing-touchdown day against North Dakota was the best quarterbacking game by a freshman since his game at Idaho State the week before.
The two other freshman quarterbacks on the list? Marty Mornhinweg and Dave Dickenson. Before Jensen came along, Mornhinweg's 186-yard, four-touchdown game against Eastern Washington in 1980 was the best passing game by a freshman.
His numbers aren't only comparable to freshmen.
His 423 passing yards against North Dakota is the 19th-highest outing by a Montana quarterback regardless of classification and his 80-yard pass to Samori Toure against Savannah State broke the program record for longest pass without being a touchdown.
He's also moving up the charts for career passing. His 1,630 passing yards to date passed Van Troxel last week to move into 23rd all-time at Montana. He has a long way to go to pass the leader — Dickenson — who had 11,080 when he played from 1992-95.
Jensen's passing yards are standing out across the country too.
His 1,630 passing yards are 30th nationwide, despite starting in just four games this season.
Many of his efforts are ranked in the top 30 nationally so far:
- 14.95 passing yards per completion — 10th.
- 155.5 passing efficiency — 17th.
- 102 points responsible for — 25th.
- 14.6 points responsible for per game — 26th.
- 13 passing touchdowns — 27th.
- 232.9 passing yards per game — 28th.
The last Grizzly player to be nominated for the national freshman of the year award was Jerry Louie-McGee in 2016. Since the award's inception in 2011, no Montana player has won the award. Two former Big Sky Conference freshmen — Eastern Washington's Cooper Kupp and Northern Arizona's Case Cookus — have won the award. Kupp took home the trophy in 2013, while Cookus won in 2015.
Out of the 17 players added to the watch list, Jensen is the only Big Sky player to be nominated.
Others on the Jerry Rice Award watchlist are:
- Kennesaw State linebacker Bryson Armstrong;
- Colgate quarterback Grant Breneman;
- Elon quarterback Davis Cheek;
- North Dakota State linebacker Jabril Cox;
- Yale running back Zane Dudek;
- Davidson running back Wesley Dugger;
- Furman linebacker Reynard Ellis;
- Maine linebacker Jaron Grayer;
- Monmouth running back Pete Guerriero;
- Presbyterian running back Torrance Marable;
- North Carolina A&T cornerback Franklin McCain III;
- Howard quarterback Caylin Newton;
- Mercer quarterback Kaelan Riley;
- Campbell quarterback Daniel Smith;
- North Carolina Central running back/kick returner Isaiah Totten; and
- Eastern Illinois cornerback Mark Williams.