Ford named Newcomer of the Year as 14 Griz earn All-Big Sky honors

From the University of Montana Griz Athletics Program: 

With an FCS-best eight interceptions this season, cornerback Justin Ford earned one of the league’s marquee individual awards and six Grizzlies earned first-team All-Big Sky honors, as the conference rolled out its end of year awards Tuesday.

Ford was named the Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year while a total of 14 Grizzlies earned All-Big Sky honors, including six first-team selections – tied for the most in the league, and the most for the Grizzlies in one season since 2011.

On Monday, Ford and UM linebacker Patrick O’Connell were named finalists for the Buck Buchanan Award, presented annually to the FCS defensive player of the year.

In his first season as a Grizzly after arriving from Louisville, the junior has been one of the most dominant defensive backs in all of Division-I football, going on an unprecedented streak with eight interceptions in eight-straight games.

Ford’s eight picks are not only the most in FCS football, but in FBS and D-II football as well. In addition to interceptions, he also ranks third in the nation in total passes defended and is second in the Big Sky and top-15 in the FCS in fumbles recovered.

He added to that total Saturday when he scooped up a Montana State fumble recovery and returned it 56 yards for a touchdown. It was his second defensive touchdown of the season following a 26-yard pick-six against Southern Utah.

Ford ended the regular season as Montana’s No.8 overall tackler with 38 total stops and has registered a stat in nearly every defensive category with two TFLs, one sack, 16 pass deflections, one QB hurry, and one forced fumble. His eight interceptions currently rank him fourth in Montana history in single-season INTs.

O’Connell, who was named Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week on Monday in addition to being named a finalist for the Buchanan Award, leads the Big Sky in sacks as a junior and enters the postseason third in the FCS total sacks as well.

The native of Kalispell earned first-team All-Big Sky honors alongside Ford Tuesday after leading the Big Sky total sacks with 13, getting in on at least one in 10 of UM’s 11 games to date. He also ranks third in the league in both tackles for loss and forced fumbles and is ranked No. 8 in the conference in total tackles.

Against Montana State, he posted a game-high 11 tackles with 1.5 sacks for an MSU loss of 11 yards and one QB hurry. Following Saturday’s game, he now ranks No. 10 in career sacks with 19.5 and is top-15 in career TFLs with 29.

Safety Robby Hauck rounds out the first-team All-Big Sky picks for coordinator Kent Baer‘s defense after a second-straight season as one of the top tacklers in the conference with 107 to date. He was a second-team all-conference pick in 2019.

Hauck’s selection gives the Grizzly defense three first-team picks, each of which going to juniors. All three played a key part in Montana’s suffocating defense this season that is has put up the second-best scoring defense in the nation, allowing an average of just 13 points against it over 11 games. They also helped UM to an FCS-best five defensive touchdowns scored and were part of the No. 3 red zone defense in the FCS as well.

The Grizzlies’ special teams was equally as stifling this season, with the UM punt team leading the FCS in net punt yards at 44.39 – a total that would slot in as the fourth-best in FBS football as well. The UM kickoff team led the league and ranked fourth in the FCS in return yards as well with an average of 27.35, and kickoff return defense slotting in second in the league.

As such, the Griz had three more first-team All-Big Sky selections on special teams, none of which are seniors.

Freshman punter Brian Buschini was a first-team pick after making a statement in his first year as a Grizzly, finishing the year as the No. 1 punter in the FCS. The Helena native’s school-record 46.7 yards per-punt average also puts him among the top-10 punters in all of Division-I football.

Malik Flowers returned a pair of kickoffs for touchdowns early this season before teams just flat quit kicking to him. The junior is now tied for second in Big Sky history with five career kickoff returns for a touchdown, and was named a co-first-teamer with Weber State senior Rashid Shaheed, who set a new NCAA record with seven kick returns for a score.

Rounding out the first-team picks for Montana is freshman Trevin Gradney from Billings who made several big plays on the UM special teams with five solo tackles and one TFL this season.

Senior tackle Conlan Beaver was named second-team All-Big Sky for a second time in his career, after also repeating as the team’s Paul Weskamp Award winner for outstanding offensive lineman on Sunday.

Sophomore defensive tackle Alex Gubner picked up the first all-conference honors of his career with a place on the second team. Gubner finished the regular season as Montana’s seventh-overall top tackler with 37 stops, eight tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble as well.

Senior linebacker Jace Lewis also landed on the second team with 84 tackles this season – the third most on the team. He’ll finish his illustrious career at UM in the top-10 in career TFLs with 14.5 this season and in the top-25 in career sacks with 4.5 on the year.

Sophomore guard Hunter Mayginnes made seven starts in his first season at Montana to become Montana’s only third-team all-conference selection as well.

Picking up All-Big Sky honorable mentions for the Griz were junior receiver Mitch Roberts, freshman tight end Cole Grossman, and senior defensive ends Joe Babros and Justin Belknap.

The Griz are expected to return a total of 10 of their 14 all-conference honorees in 2022.

2021 Big Sky Football Individual Award Winners
Offensive Player of the Year: Eric Barriere*, QB, EWU
Defensive Player of the Year: Troy Andersen, LB, MSU
Newcomer of the Year: Justin Ford, DB, Montana
Freshman of the Year: RJ Martinez, QB, NAU
* – Unanimous selection

First Team All-Big Sky Offense
QB: Eric Barriere*, EWU
RB: Isaiah Ifanse*, MSU; Ulonzo Gilliam, UC Davis
FB: Logan Kendall*, Idaho
WR: Talolo Limu-Jones, EWU; Lance McCutcheon, MSU; Pierre Williams, Sac State
TE: Marshel Martin, Sac State
OL: Lewis Kidd*, MSU; Braxton Jones, Southern Utah; Tristen Taylor, EWU; Thomas Parker, Sac State; Noah Atagi, Weber State; Jake Parks, UC Davis

First Team All-Big Sky Defense 
DT: Jared Schiess, Weber State; Chase Benson, MSU
DE: Daniel Hardy, MSU; Josiah Erickson, Sac State
OLB: Patrick O’Connell, Montana; Conner Mortensen, Weber State
MLB: Troy Andersen, MSU; Tre Walker, Idaho
DB: Justin Ford, Montana; Eddie Heckard, Weber State; Robby Hauck, Montana; Anthony Adams, Portland State; Jordan Perryman, UC Davis

First Team All-Big Sky Special Teams
K: Kyle Sentkowski, Sac State
P: Brian Buschini, Montana
KR: Rashid Shaheed*, Weber State; Malik Flowers*, Montana
PR: Rashid Shaheed, Weber State
ST: Trevin Gradney – Montana
AP: Asher O’Hara*, Sac State

Second Team All-Big Sky Offense
QB: Davis Alexander, Portland State
RB: Kevin Daniels, NAU; Dennis Merritt, EWU
FB: Ryan Rivera, Cal Poly
WR: Andrew Boston, EWU; Beau Kelly, Portland State; Tanner Conner, Idaho State; Rashid Shaheed, Weber State
TE: McCallan Castles, UC Davis
OL: Connor Pettek, UC Davis; Kooper Richardson, Sac State; Grant Stephens, UNC; Taylor Tuiasosopo, MSU; Brandon Weldon, Sac State; Conlan Beaver, Montana

Second Team All-Big Sky Defense 
DT: Alex Gubner, Montana; Bryce Rodgers, UC Davis
DE: George Tarlas, Weber State; VJ Malo, Portland State
OLB: David Hoage, UNC; La’akea Kaho’ohanohano-Davis, Southern Utah; Marte Mapu, Sac State; Callahan O’Reilley, MSU
MLB: Jace Lewis, Montana; Marcus Hawkins, Sac State
DB: Greg Filer III, Sac State; Ty Okada, MSU; Preston Smith, Weber State; Morgan Vest, NAU; Jaylin White, UC Davis

Second Team All-Big Sky Special Teams
K: Isaiah Gomez, UC Davis
P: Daniel Whelan, UC Davis
KR: Lan Larison, UC Davis
PR: Isaiah Thomas, UC Davis
AP: Trent Tompkins, UC Davis

Third Team All-Big Sky Offense
QB: Jake Dunniway, Sac State
RB: Cameron Skattebo, Sac State; Roshaun Johnson, Idaho
WR: Efton Chism III, EWU; Freddie Roberson, EWU; Terez Traynor, Idaho
TE: Hayden Meechem, Weber State
OL: Hunter Mayginnes, Montana; Logan Floyd, Idaho; Jonas Leader, NAU; Wyatt Musser, EWU; Terren Carey, Idaho State

Third Team All-Big Sky Defense
DT: Josh Jerome, EWU; Myles Cecil, Cal Poly
DE: Mitchell Johnson, EWU; Francis Bemiy, SUU; Charles Akanno, Idaho
MLB: Matt Shotwell, Cal Poly; Jack Sendelbach, EWU
DB: Calin Criner, EWU; Jerone Jackson, UNC; Kobe Singleton, Southern Utah; Tre Webb, MSU; Malik Jeter, Sac State

Third Team All-Big Sky Special Teams
K: Blake Glessner, MSU
P: Sam Clark, Sac State

Big Sky Honorable Mention Team
Kassidy Woods, UNC; Mitch Roberts, Montana; Nate Bennett, Portland State; Coleman Owen, NAU; Hendrix Johnson, NAU
TE: Cole Grossman, Montana; Jared Scott, Idaho State
DT: Semise Kofe, Portland State; Noah Ellis, Idaho; Doug Schiess, Weber State; Jett Stanley, Sac State
DE: Carson Taylor, NAU; Joe Babros, Montana; Elijah Ponder, Cal Poly; Joe Golden, UNC; Justin Belknap, Montana; Amandre Williams, MSU
MLB: Sherwin Lavaka, Weber State; Jace Bobo, UNC; Ty Graham, EWU; Tristen Vance, NAU; Harrison Beemiller, NAU
DB: Marque Collins, Weber State; Jeffrey Manning Jr., MSU; Jayden Dawson, Idaho State; Tyrese Dedmon, Idaho
P: Kevin Ryan, Idaho State; DJ Arnson, NAU

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