MISSOULA — Montana senior Cy Sirmon is excited about his July wedding at Lake Chelan in Washington, but his focus right now is on closing out his college career strong.
Fortunately, Sirmon has a fiancé who’s willing to handle the wedding plans while he works on handling a new position on the offensive line, where competition is heating up and all five spots are still up for grabs after a season defined by youth.
“Right now, it’s so 'football, football, football' that I’m leaving her to worry about that stuff,” Sirmon said after the 12th practice of fall camp on Monday.
“She’ll throw me little tidbits of information, like what she picked here or there. It’s a lot of fun. I’m pretty sure girls plan their weddings from the moment they can write, so she’s got it all figured out exactly how she wants it and is getting all the ducks in a row now.”
Sirmon is trying to earn the starting nod at center after moving over from right guard in the spring. Now in his fifth different position in five years after beginning on defense, he's up 18 pounds from last season to 6-foot-4, 290 pounds.
Montana coach Bobby Hauck noted Sirmon’s offseason leadership but also mentioned redshirt sophomore Skyler Martin as someone who has been pushing him for the spot.
“He’s in a pretty heated battle for the starting center spot with Sky Martin,” Hauck said. “They’re fighting every day to try to get it done. It’s fun to watch that competition.”
Sirmon feels like the competition from Martin is pushing him to be better. He’s noticed some benefits of that in his play.
“My feet, I feel like I’m driving after contact better,” Sirmon said. “Just playing a bit more violently. I think most of it is the fire under my butt. A little bit more passion in the way I’m blocking, going a little harder, giving it a little more juice.
"The second anybody in this game slips up and decides that they’re good enough is the second they don’t play anymore.”
Sirmon has seen the attitude of not being satisfied spread among the team. On the offensive line specifically, the splitting of first-team reps is a way to foster that competition but also to keep the players from getting worn down or beat up too much.
“Fall camp’s a grind,” Sirmon said. “We’re out here with a purpose. We’re not just trying to survive. We’re trying to get better every day. I don’t feel too down in the dumps. Every day is a new day to get better at something.”
Before Sirmon can say "I do," he and the offensive line are trying to say ‘DOLA,’ or Dominant Offensive Line Attitude. It’s a mantra that’s been at Montana since the 1980s.
Hauck said the offensive linemen have embraced that attitude while competing for playing time. But he cautioned that it’s something that takes time to achieve on the field.
“They’re getting it,” Hauck said. “We’re still pretty green there. That’s an acquired skill. When you’ve got fourth- and fifth-year guys playing up there, it’s a little easier to dominate people. But the attitude’s there.”
As for how that attitude has aided the play on the field, Hauck said: “They’re blocking better. It’s as simple as that.”
Hauck has been encouraged by how the linemen have improved their technique on the field and their physique in the weight room. As for expectations, he noted that the group is still young and the team may have to play "a bunch of them."
"I think they'll probably evolve as the season goes and probably improve," Hauck said. "It's kind of what you expect out of the young guys. We'll see. We hope they can keep coming together and maybe make as much improvement through this season as they did from the end of last to now."
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Redshirt sophomore right tackle Colton Keintz was thrown into the fire last year but held his own enough to start in all 11 games.
This year, the Missoula Big Sky grad comes in at 6-foot-8, 304 pounds, a change of plus-17 pounds since last season. That’s the result of him focusing on putting on muscle in the weight room.
“I feel stronger and faster,” Keintz said. “I believe that it helps my confidence in that I sort of got thrown into it my first spring. Now I feel that the game has really slowed down. Now I feel that it is at a manageable pace for me. It’s something that I can handle. I feel that I can move better than I was able to previously. Just getting off the ball, picking guys up, things like that.”
Montana returns both of its starters in Keintz and redshirt junior left tackle Conlan Beaver. Redshirt sophomore Dylan Cook has seen some first-team reps at both tackle spots in the fall as he pushes for a starting spot.
Keintz feels the competition is good for the group.
“We know what we have to do,” he said. “We know that the work is nowhere near done. We’re still embracing what we’re going through. Fall camp’s not over. We’re still out there pushing people around in the hot weather.”
Senior Angel Villanueva is the most experienced player on the line, having started in 29 consecutive games before his streak ended last season.
He transformed his body by dropping 40 pounds in the offseason and feels it’s been a big boost through two weeks of camps.
“Just my mobility and being able to move and adjust easier and better,” Villanueva said of the benefits. “Because of that, I’ve felt better moving out here. I feel like my body is recovering better because of the nutrition aspect of my diet. I just feel like I’m ready to play football.”
Villanueva is joined at the guard spots by junior college transfers Kordell Pillans, who came in the spring, and Moses Mallory, who came in the fall. Redshirt freshman Tyler Ganoung has also seen some first-team reps in the fall.
“I think the competition is healthy,” Villanueva said. “It creates a sense of never being satisfied. It’s good to push each other. That’s what we pride ourselves in. We want to be challenged. We want to be pushed. We want to have the 1s and 2s where the 2s can play the 1s just as well as the 1s can play it.”
Montana focused on short-yardage plays at the end of Monday’s practice. Redshirt freshman quarterback Garrett Graves ran for a 40-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-1, as did junior quarterback Cam Humphrey.
On fourth-and-1 at the goal line, sophomore running back Adam Eastwood converted for the score.
True freshman running back Nick Ostmo continues to impress. The 6-foot, 215-pound hard-nosed runner from Portland, Oregon, ran for an 80-yard touchdown against the first-team defense and a 92-yard touchdown against the second-team defense.
Marcus Knight scored on a touchdown run down the left sideline, running past Robby Hauck’s tackle attempt.
True freshman cornerback Corbin Walker, who Hauck has mentioned multiple times in camp, had a highlight while guarding redshirt sophomore receiver Mitch Roberts. Walker broke up a pass to Roberts over the top of the defense, and as Roberts tried to corral the ball out of the air while falling to the ground, Walker knocked the ball away from him a second time.
Humphrey, who took most of the first-team reps, connected with receiver Sammy Akem for a touchdown during 7-on-7 drills. In 11-on-11 action, Justin Calhoun picked off Humphrey and ran back the ball to the 4-yard line.