MISSOULA -- Ten Grizzlies were named to the all-Big Sky Conference post-season honors teams Tuesday, but for the first time in more than 30 years no Montana player earned first-team recognition.
The Griz skidded down the stretch to land on the outside of the playoff picture for the third time in seven years, but their absence from the all-Big Sky first team marks a first since 1984. Every year since – with the exception of '85 – UM placed at least two players on the first team.
The 1984 Griz went 2-8-1 under head coach Larry Donovan and finished last in an eight-team Big Sky. The 2016 Griz sputtered to a 6-5 record to finish eighth in the 13-team league this season and drew two second-team selections, four on the third team and four more that made honorable mention.
Junior left tackle David Reese, a three-year starter for Montana, was the offense's second-team pick while senior defensive end Caleb Kidder went to the second team from the defense. Reese started all 11 games this season guarding the quarterback's blind side. Kidder, the preseason Big Sky defensive player of the year, was fifth on the team with 55 tackles and third with 11 tackles for loss. His 5.5 sacks were tied for second.
Fellow offensive lineman Jackson Thiebes, a senior right tackle, was named to the third team along with three defenders: sophomore outside linebacker Josh Buss, junior middle linebacker Connor Strahm and senior defensive end Ryan Johnson.
Thiebes also started all 11 games, as did Johnson and Strahm. Johnson was fourth on the team with 57 tackles and had 13 for loss with a team-high six sacks. Strahm was second on the Griz with 70 stops, including eight for loss and 4.5 sacks. Both Strahm and Johnson also forced three fumbles apiece.
Buss, a first-year starter, was the Grizzlies' best bet at a first-team pick. He led not only UM but the Big Sky as a whole with 20 tackles for loss. His 5.5 sacks ranked fourth in the league. Weber State senior Tre'von Johnson and Southern Utah junior Mike Needham were selected first team.
A third Griz lineman, senior right guard Devon Dietrich, was tabbed as honorable mention as were redshirt-freshman receiver Jerry Louie-McGee, senior quarterback Brady Gustafson and junior safety Justin Strong.
Dietrich was another three-year starter on the line. Louie-McGee was the Grizzlies' leading receiver with 73 catches for 651 yards. He added three touchdown catches in his eight games played. Gustafson passed for 2,785 yards and 25 touchdowns, both third-best marks in the league, while playing just nine games. Strong led the Griz with three interceptions, one going back for a touchdown, and ranked third on the team with 68 tackles.
Big Sky co-champions North Dakota and Eastern Washington led all squads with 16 and 14 all-conference selections, respectively.
For a second straight season EWU receiver Cooper Kupp was named Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year, though this time he shared the honor with his quarterback, sophomore Gage Gubrud. It's the first time Big Sky teammates have shared the award. Kupp is just the fourth player in league history to earn first-team honors four times.
North Dakota junior safety Cole Reyes was named the league's Defensive Player of the Year. Montana State quarterback Chris Murray earned the Big Sky's Freshman of the Year nod while Weber State junior tight end Andrew Vollert was Newcomer of the Year.
The all-conference teams are selected by the Big Sky’s head football coaches. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own players. The conference’s Coach of the Year award will be announced Wednesday.