The Montana football program has won two FCS championships (1995 and 2001) and has finished as runner-up five times (1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2009). The Grizzlies had 25 straight winning seasons from 1986-2011, producing transcendent players along the way. That said, here's a look at the top individual players in Montana history.
The top-5 players of all time for Montana football
*The first year of I-AA/FCS play was in 1978. This list looks at players since that season, taking into consideration things including, but not limited to, national awards won, championships won, and All-American accolades*
1. QB Dave Dickenson
The first player on the all-time Montana football players list is Dave Dickenson. Dickenson is the only Walter Payton Award winner in Montana history, taking home the trophy back in 1995. That was a year of firsts for Dickenson, leading the Grizzlies to their first FCS title. The All-American signal-caller threw for 13,484 yards and 116 touchdowns in his career, but his run to the title saw his most impressive numbers.
In the 1995 FCS playoffs, Dickenson threw two, four and five touchdowns in the first three rounds, playing in just the first half, first three quarters and 32 minutes, respectively, of the blowout games. Then in the championship game, as he was battling an AC separation in his right shoulder, Dickenson tossed for 281 yards and two touchdowns while completing 29 of 48 attempts (60 percent). Dickenson's championship run earns him a spot on this list.
2018 College Football Hall of Fame inductee Dave Dickenson and current @calstampeders head coach reflects on leading @MontanaGrizFB to a national title and what that accomplishment meant to the entire state of Montana. pic.twitter.com/bIvf13vyfQ— Football Foundation (@NFFNetwork) August 14, 2019
2. DB Tim Hauck
When you hear the name Hauck and Montana together, you might think of current Grizzlies head coach Bobby Hauck. However, Coach Hauck's brother and Montana native Tim Hauck was the first Grizzly star in the family as a two-time All-American at safety in 1988 and 1989 for Montana.
Hauck's career on the gridiron was electrifying; he intercepted 15 passes and blocked nine kicks en route to All-American honors and thrice winning Montana's Golden Helmet Award as the teams' hardest hitter. Hauck also kicked off the tradition of the No. 37 jersey as the first defender to represent the Spirit of Montana.
3. S Vince Huntsberger
Vince Huntsberger has a strong claim as the best defender in Montana football history. He is the only Grizzly to ever receive a Heisman vote after all; Huntsberger received the vote after his fantastic 2001 season.
In 2001, Huntsberger made a school-record 145 tackles and three interceptions, forced fumbles and tackles for loss, stuffing the stat sheet. Huntsberger finished as the 2001 runner-up for the Buck Buchanan Award, won Big Sky Defensive MVP and earned numerous All-American honors. Yet most importantly, Huntsberger capped off his 2001 season with FCS Championship Game MVP honors as he led Montana to its second FCS title.
Huntsberger's 2001 season alone could have landed him on this list, but when adding in his 469 career tackles (a Montana record including playoffs), he is all but guaranteed a spot.
AWARDS: Walter Payton Award history | Buck Buchanan Award history | Jerry Rice Award history
4. RB Yohance Humphrey
On the offensive side of Montana's 2001 championship season lies running back Yohance Humphrey. The Grizzlies quite literally would not have won the 2001 title without Humphrey as he scored the only Montana touchdown. In 2001, Humphrey set the program's single-season rushing record with 1,658 yards, highlighted by his 265 yards against Weber State. Humphrey finished his career as Montana's all-time leading rusher with 4,892 career rushing yards and 54 rushing touchdowns.
5. LB Dante Olson
In 2019, linebacker Dante Olson became the second player in Montana history to win the Buck Buchanan Award. Olson won the award after breaking the school record for single-season tackles for the second consecutive year with 179 total tackles, the most across any level of college football. He also broke Huntsberger's all-time career tackles record. As one of four Montana players with a major national award under his belt, Olson gets the final spot on the list as the best tackler in Grizzlies history.
Congratulations to @MontanaGrizFB Dante Olson for winning the Buck Buchanan award as top defensive player in FCS. #BigSkyFB #WhereiRoot #GoGriz pic.twitter.com/1rZ2ZMfBzE— Pike Parker (@PikeParker) January 11, 2020
HISTORY: Schools with the most FCS titles | 9 winningest FCS programs all time | Championship history
- QB John Edwards
- QB Brian Ah Yat
- RB Chase Reynolds
- OT Scott Gragg
- WR Joe Douglass
- WR Marc Mariani
- DE Kroy Biermann
- LB Tyrone Holmes
- LB Jordan Tripp
- S Trey Young
Two quarterbacks lead the notable omissions in John Edwards and Brian Ah Yat. Edwards won the 2001 championship, but failed to score a touchdown in the win. Brian Ah Yat had the difficult task of following Dickenson under center, but found success early in 1996, throwing for 5,012 yards and 53 touchdowns during a 14-1 season. Unfortunately, the two-time Big Sky Offensive MVP never got the Grizzlies back to a championship game and misses out on the top five.
1️⃣0️⃣ Days to kickoff!— Montana Griz Football (@MontanaGrizFB) August 22, 2018
One of the greatest to ever wear a Grizzly uniform, #10 Brian Ah Yat led the Griz to the '96 National Championship game, and still holds the UM record for most passing yards in a game with 560 😳
Highlights via @NCAA_FCS #GoGriz #RTD #MontanaTough pic.twitter.com/o7vJWsWnGU
At wide receiver, Joe Douglass and Marc Mariani both finished their careers atop Montana receiving record books, each had great postseason performances. Douglass was pivotal to the 1995 championship run, starting on the team. The next year when the Grizzlies lost in the title game, Douglass caught 13 passes in the defeat. Yet, Douglass misses the list with only 22 games played in his collegiate career.
Years later, Marc Mariani put together a fantastic playoff performance of his own. The Montana native led Grizzlies from a 48-21 deficit in the first round of the 2009 FCS playoffs, putting the team on his back. Mariani started the rally with a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter, following that score with two fourth-quarter touchdown receptions. Montana would go on to score 40 unanswered points to win the game. The Grizzlies ultimately fell short in the FCS championship for the second straight year, leaving Mariani without a ring that could get him on this list.
A quartet of elite defenders also was in consideration for the top five, all of whom either won or finished as a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award. Defensive end Kroy Biermann was the first-ever player to bring the Buck Buchanan Award to Missoula in 2007, while linebacker Tyron Holmes did not win the award, instead being named Stats Perform FCS Defensive Player of the Year in 2015.
Despite the individual success of the defenders to miss the cut, without a championship they miss the top five. The lone defender in the notable omissions with a championship, safety Trey Young, misses out because he wasn't the best defender on that 2001 championship team.
ALL-TIME UPSETS: See every FCS-over-FBS upset here
Who could be next
- Patrick O'Connell
- Justin Ford
- Malik Flowers
Continuing the Montana tradition of big-time defenders are linebacker Patrick O'Connell and cornerback Justin Ford. The two standouts finished third and fourth, respectively, for the 2021 Buck Buchanan Award. With another great season and some playoff success to add, O'Connell and Ford each have a chance to finish their careers on this list.
Add it to the highlight reel: Justin Ford now has 8 interceptions in 8 straight games for #GrizFB pic.twitter.com/wjqxueurrm https://t.co/cHnrN8NXZw— Kyle Hansen (@khansen406) November 14, 2021
Return specialist Malik Flowers could also find himself amongst Missoula legends. Flowers is Montana's all-time leader in kick return touchdowns and has the second-most career return yards in school history. If Flowers returns more kicks to the house that have a game-defining impact, he may earn his way into the top-5.