MISSOULA — With fall camp under way for the Montana Grizzlies, once again all eyes will be on the quarterback room.
The Griz have three players vying for reps at football's most prestigious position, a competition that's sure to be ramped up from the start.
It's a stable of options, but only one can ultimately start, and for the Grizzlies, it'll come down to redshirt sophomore Sam Vidlak, redshirt junior Kris Brown or senior Clifton McDowell taking the first snap under center come the season opener against Butler on Sept. 2.
"You just always got to stay ready, whether that's in practice, whether that's in games, whatever it is you always got to be prepared," Brown said. "You've got to prepare like you're the guy and you got to be ready to go when your number is called on."
Brown enters as the veteran of the group, having served as UM's primary backup the past two seasons, with a lot of playing time mixed in there as injuries hit the QB room.
He's been here before entrenched in a quarterback competition, and for Brown, it's about continuing to grow and improve every day, stay ready and help the team however possible.
"It's really about at the end of the day caring about this team and wanting to see it become the best that it can be," the Bozeman High grad said. "Whatever it is, I just want what's best for the team and at the end of the day you've got to be able to compete when you're on the field and then put it behind you when you're off and help the guys get better."
Vidlak — a native of Applegate, Oregon — transferred to UM from Boise State in the winter, and also spent time at Oregon State before that.
He competed in spring football with the Grizzlies, and emerged as the leader for the job according to head coach Bobby Hauck, so it's about keeping that momentum going forward.
"It's definitely very exciting. Worked a long time and worked really hard as everybody has here, and so it's definitely very exciting," Vidlak said. "I feel really good about our team this year, I'm really excited about the group of guys we got and the coaching staff we have so it's definitely really exciting and a really exciting time in the season for this group of guys, and for myself a really exciting time in my life as well that I'm really thankful for and just trying to cherish."
Not to mention his experience from the spring is paying off as his familiarity with the offense continues to enhance.
"Definitely a lot different," Vidlak said about the difference between spring and fall. "Anytime you go through an offense for the second time, things come just more smoothly. You can study and do everything you do and you can be as ready as you can be on that first go-round but anytime you go through it twice you just naturally kind of get a better grasp of things and it just kind of comes more naturally to you so it was definitely a little different which was good."
The final interesting piece to the QB puzzle is McDowell.
McDowell transferred to UM from FCS Central Arkansas back in May, so he arrived later, but found what he was looking for.
"I got a call from coach (Brent) Pease and I talked to coach (Justin) Green and coach Hauck," said McDowell, a native of Spring, Texas. "I was committed to Southern (University) and I took a visit up here and it's just beautiful. I would be wrong not to come here."
McDowell has also had stops at FBS Louisiana Lafayette and Kilgore College, a junior college in Texas. McDowell is an interesting wrinkle for the Griz QBs as a dual-threat option who might see playing time thanks to his athleticism.
And to hear him describe it, his skill set meshes well with UM's offense.
"Explosive. I feel like I'm dual threat, I can kill you with my arms and legs," McDowell said when asked to describe his style of play. "I feel like I add on to already a very explosive offense so just an adding piece."
So it'll be those three leading the way throughout camp, as the Grizzlies sort out their starter by the time they open the season against Butler.
"We want to be multiple on offense and being able to run the quarterback some would be great," Hauck said on Monday. "You've got to have some guys in that room in case they get nicked up to be able to do that and feel good about it. But we like our quarterbacks at Montana to be able to throw so you have to complete passes.
"Sam had a good spring. We had 15 practices with him in the spring to watch him and obviously we're very familiar with him. I thought Kris did a good job throughout spring and the summer, the ones I was there for. And then Clifton, we haven't had a real extensive practice session with him other than what we did this weekend and a little bit of what we did in June so I think he'll show up better when the pads go on, frankly."