MISSOULA — When Montana started pumping out classic rock during the final 11-on-11 portion of Thursday’s practice, it was the type of music that sophomore safety Michael McGinnis finds to be the right fit for football.
It’s not his favorite type of music, though. He says he doesn’t have a favorite. The Sidney native will bounce around from classic rock to hip-hop to country to rap to whatever sounds good at the time.
McGinnis, who’s at Montana on a combined athletic and academic scholarship, is a man of many interests. Sporting a 4.0 grade-point average last year, he enjoys hunting and fishing like many in the state, but he just as easily finds interest in the intricacies of computers and the economy.
“Why have one favorite thing when you can enjoy everything,” McGinnis said after the third day of fall camp. “There’s a lot the world’s got to offer. Why not try your hand at everything, enjoy everything.”
McGinnis is trying to do just that for the Griz after playing mainly on special teams last year. He wants to be a multi-position player, continuing to contribute on special teams while attempting to break into the regular rotation at safety, where returners Robby Hauck, Gavin Robertson and Josh Sandry headline a deep group.
This fall, McGinnis has had consistent reps with the second-team defense at each day of camp. Standing at 6-foot-3 and 208-pounds, he carried over a good spring camp by starting strong the first day with a pair of interceptions during 7-on-7s.
“Mike’s a guy that I’ve said he’s got good stature, he’s got good speed,” Montana coach Bobby Hauck said. “Things, I think, are coming together for him a little bit. He’s learning the game. The special teams part of it has been huge for him in terms of his maturation as a player. So, he just needs to keep coming.”
McGinnis has long been interested in trying his hand at as many things as possible. In high school, he played five sports — football, basketball, swimming, track and soccer — and earned a partial scholarship to Montana. He earned a scholarship at the Scholar-Athlete banquet in 2018 and the men’s President’s Award in 2019 for having the top GPA in the athletic department.
Away from sports, McGinnis is majoring in management information systems at the business school. He developed a love of computers at a young age from his dad, a software engineer, and found it to be fun to play around with them.
“I’m kind of a computer nerd sometimes,” he said. “I enjoy all the technology, the little weird, geeky things.”
Then there’s the economy class he enjoyed. That led to him starting to listen to The Economist and Planet Money podcasts, which he mixes in with sports comedy-themed podcasts like Pardon My Take and The Pat McAfee Show.
“Economics, I’m kind of a nerd when it comes to some of that stuff,” he said. “It’s really interesting. It kind of tells you how the world works. A lot of stuff out there, so might as well enjoy it all.”
A quiet person by nature, McGinnis has slowly come along to loosening up and being more talkative, according to fellow safeties Josh Sandry and Gavin Robertson. He’ll even crack jokes once he gets to know you.
Success on the football field has started to follow. He played in all 11 games last year and tallied nine tackles.
“It took a couple years for him to ground himself,” Sandry said. “You can tell over the years he’s improving, he’s getting bigger, he’s getting faster, he’s getting stronger, he’s getting smarter and, I mean, the dude’s a 4.0 student. He’s a reliable guy.”
It's those teammates and the bonds formed with them over the years that McGinnis said keeps him around football, his favorite sport.
Now in his third time through fall camp, McGinnis is starting to feel comfortable and prepared on the field instead of scrambling around. It helps that it's his first time being in the same system after having Bob Stitt as a freshman and Hauck last year.
“I’m really starting to get a handle on the scheme and figuring out where I need to be,” McGinnis said. “Now it’s just a matter of putting myself there and hustling and embracing the grind and just coming in every day and striving to improve.”
With all the smarts and varied interests, McGinnis knows to stay away from one topic on the football field: the politics of who starts and who doesn’t.
“Playing time is really in the back of my mind,” McGinnis said. “It’s more just how can you help the team out. It’s shut your mind off, erase the politics, erase the drama. There’s none of that in coach Hauck’s college football. It’s all for your teammates.”
Ready to rumble
Junior safety Gavin Robertson lost 14 pounds since last season, but he didn’t lose his love of hitting.
Robertson, who shared last year’s team award as the hardest hitter with Robby Hauck, now stands at 6-foot-1 and 208 pounds. He accomplished the body change by having less fast food, eating more greens and continuing to spend time working out.
Robertson has made his share of plays this week. On the first day, he high-pointed a deep pass down the right sideline and knocked it away from a receiver and out of bounds. On day two, he broke up a pass and hauled in an interception that elicited a huge cheer from the defensive sideline on the final play of practice.
“I’m feeling a lot better, a lot quicker, a lot faster, not getting tired as quick,” Robertson said. “It just feels good.”
Senior quarterback Dalton Sneed didn’t take any reps for the second day in a row. He ran during pre-practice drills, occasionally took a lap during practice and again spent most of his time behind the offense by the coaches and other quarterbacks.
As for how Bobby Hauck said Sneed feels: “Fine. Just getting a little conditioning in. Fat camp," he said before cracking a smile and laughing.
Junior Cam Humphrey took the first-team reps again. During 11-on-11s, he had a touchdown pass to Sammy Akem, who broke away from multiple tacklers and stiff-armed linebacker Dante Olson. Humphrey also had a touchdown pass of about 20 yards to running back Marcus Knight. He did have had a pass knocked down at the line by freshman edge rusher Cole Grossman and had a pass to Akem broken up in the end zone by Dareon Nash.
Garrett Graves, taking second-team reps, had his biggest play when he hit true freshman Ryan Simpson in stride over the middle for a touchdown. True freshman Kris Brown took all the other reps, fumbling one snap and getting picked off by true freshman cornerback Trevin Gradney, who snagged a low pass in the flat and ran it back for a score.
True freshman running back Nick Ostmo had a touchdown run of about 20 yards.
Returning starting right tackle Colton Keintz didn’t participate on Thursday, coming to practice in shorts and a t-shirt. Sophomore Dylan Cook started in his spot with the first team.
Sophomore Zane Whiting, a spring transfer, practiced with the tight ends on Thursday after having spent his time at Montana on the defensive line.