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Griz Q&A: Sophomore utility player Joey Elwell bringing versatility to Montana's offense

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MISSOULA — Joey Elwell has one of the more interesting situations on Montana in terms of what position he plays.

The sophomore is listed as a tight end on the roster. He’s placed at fullback on the two-deep. And he lines up as an H-back.

It doesn’t matter to Elwell what position he’s called. He’s focused on bringing versatility as he blocks in the run game and in pass protection but also runs routes to catch passes when asked. He’s tied for second on UM with two touchdown catches on his six receptions for 62 yards.

Elwell sat down with 406mtsports.com to catch up on his first full season as a starter.

Q: You’re one of the more unique guys on the roster being listed as a tight end and fullback but lining up like an H-back, so what position do you consider yourself?

A: “We call ourselves the Junction Boys. I’m a fullback, but I’m a tight end first. We don’t really put words to it. I just line up wherever they need me.”

Q: What’s a Junction Boy, where does that come from?

A: “It’s something (tight ends) coach (Bryce) Erickson came up with. We work hard. It’s like this old story, I don’t remember exactly what the story’s from, but they called themselves the Junction Boys. It was like a hard fall camp and some of them quit. The ones that stayed, they called themselves the Junction Boys. We’re the hard workers.”

Editor’s note: “The Junction Boys” is a reference to iconic Alabama coach Bear Bryant’s grueling 10-day training camp when he was the Texas A&M coach in 1954.

Q: Speaking of coach Erickson, what are the biggest things you’ve learned from him?

A: “He’s got a good football mind. I’ve learned a lot about reading coverages and different fronts. He came in and we all had to learn the offense together because he obviously didn’t know the offense. Just figuring out schemes and really looking at what defenses were doing and being able to diagnose them.”

Q: How would you describe his coaching style?

A: “Energy. He’s got a lot of energy. He’s very passionate about what he does, especially with us. He’s always fired up, drinking Red Bulls in meetings. He really doesn’t turn down much.”

Q: You said you’re a tight end first, so what do you consider your primary duties?

A: “Run blocking. That’s a major goal for me. And then being available whenever my number is called running routes. Pass protection as well. We pretty much do it all. Blocking on the perimeter.”

Q: What are the areas you feel you’ve made the biggest improvements?

A: “The route running, pass catching, I feel like it’s kind of starting to seep into my game a little bit. Really understanding the offense. When you first get here, you kind of just run plays based off memories. But when you really understand why you’re running a certain play a certain way, it’s easier to make adjustments. We have a lot of good plays we can run. Sometimes, you got to do it on the fly.”

Q: On the other side, what are the major things you’re working on now?

A: “I’m still working on route running. I feel like that’s an every-day thing. Being able to block anything from a corner to a defensive end to a looping defensive tackle, that’s always an adjustment. You block every position, I feel, as a tight end, especially in this offense when you’re on the perimeter. So, just being versatile.”

Q: The Cal Poly game, you scored your first touchdown, how would you describe that feeling?

A: “It was amazing. I worked really hard for that. It felt good to get the payoff. Being a tight end, we don’t really get as much recognition as some other position groups. I mean, we get plenty, but we don’t need it. But it felt good for sure.”

Q: You probably get more than the linemen, but just what does it take to be a tight end in this offense?

A: “You got to have a selfless presence. You got to be the guy that’ll do the dirty work and really not get any recognition for it sometimes, which is fine by us. And then you also have to have the ability to make big plays when your name’s called and have the ability to play anywhere they put you, so you have to understand the offense. You’re not going to get a lot of credit for it, and that’s fine. That’s what we always talk about is we’re going to do the dirty work and be the toughest guys on the field and maybe not get much credit for it, and that’s all good.”

Q: Lastly, coming off injuries in the spring and fall, how were you able to get yourself in a position to be ready to go by the season opener?

A: “A big thing the coaches are always telling us is you’ve got to take mental reps when you’re not in. We have a very young group, and I was the most experienced tight end, so it kind of fell on me a little bit to get the younger guys going because they had to take reps. I just felt like I helped out a lot, and that in turn helped me stay locked in and learn the playbook.”

Q: So are you the oldest tight end? I think Matt Rensvold might be older, but I know he’s had quite a few injuries.

A: “I’m not the oldest, but I have the most game experience. Renz is really great about helping us out. He helped me out a lot too my freshman year. It was kind of weird going from being the youngest guy in the tight end room to being one of the most experienced just in the course of a year because of the COVID year.”

Q: Right, because you lost Bryson Deming from the spring. But who are some of the other tight ends who helped you along to this point?

A: “Colin Bingham. He’s an absolute beast. He had grown-man strength. He taught me a lot about run blocking and gave me a hard time, but that’s what you’re supposed to do. What it means to be a tight end in this offense means you got to do everything. He was really good at understanding coverages, understanding run blocking schemes and just being an all-around leader.”

Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at frank.gogola@missoulian.com.

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