Transfer leaves the starting running-back position up for grabs

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Gabriel Strasbaugh, Staff Reporter

With Michael Roots entering the transfer portal, the starting position at tailback is now on the table. A trio of running-backs are all vying for their bid at the job. Senior Rey Green, who works for the Observer, and freshmen Tyler Flanagan and Zaire Lozolo are “in the running-backs mix” according to head coach Chris Fisk.

The Wildcats as a team gained 57 yards on the ground for just under two and a half yards per carry (2.3). Flanagan and Lozolo saw the most action in terms of most touches in their first game at Montana. 

“There was a lot of energy,” Lozolo said. “The weather was what you could expect out of Montana weather, and really it was just a good experience for everybody. Especially for those like me and Tyler; young bucks.”

Tyler Flanagan #34
Zaire Lozolo #24

  For Flanagan, getting a chance to step on a collegiate field felt like a dream. 

“It’s been a dream of mine to play in a college football atmosphere,” Flanagan said. 

The freshmen finished the ball game with a combined 20 carries for 35 yards. Along with two catches for 11 yards, they led the ground attack with 46 yards from scrimmage. Green saw little time, snagging one reception for seven yards in the afternoon. 

The rough outing was a bit of a wake-up call to the young backs. 

Flanagan noted the size and speed of the players he now shares a field with. 

“The size and speed of the game is so fast,” Flanagan said. “Going from high school to playing the University of Montana is a huge difference.”

Lozolo said the physicality of the game is beyond the scrums of scrimmaging in practice. 

“The physicality is a lot different than practice,” Lozolo said. “You know, at practice you can’t really go at each other too much.” 

Lozolo said his welcome to the NCAA came with a shot. 

“But in a game, playing a team like that the physicality goes through the roof and you don’t really know until you get hit for the first time,” Lozolo said.

Preparation and accountability that the coaches have told the team are two of their biggest priorities. Heading into games more mentally prepared for a hard-fought battle. 

“We’ve got to take accountability,” Fisk said, “whether you’re a coach or a player.” 

Pushing each position group to be better than the last rep is a strategy the backs feel they need to incorporate more during practice. Flanagan said it takes the team, not just an individual, to have change take effect. 

“I can practice harder, but it’s a whole team thing,” Flanagan said. “Pushing everyone else to practice harder, even the defense so we can have that speed and physicality. More of a replica of the game.”

Lozolo echoes Fisk on accountability believing it will help the players play better as a unit. 

“I want to make sure everyone is practicing and playing to their highest level,” Lozolo said. “Making sure everyone’s developing into what they need to be. So, if there comes chance when they do need to play, we do need them, we know they can come out there and do the expected result.”

The players confidence in being versatile, having a bag full of tricks aside from being dominant at one facet of the game, is what sets apart the starting back from the rest.

Lozolo prides himself on more than just his ability to both catch and run. 

“I’ll catch it out of the backfield,” Lozolo said. “I’ll always make the first person miss, but I take pride in blocking.” 

Part of a half-back or full-backs responsibilities is blocking for another rusher or protecting a quarterback from the pass rush. 

“I take pride in protecting the ball carrier or quarterback on a pass route,” Lozolo said.

Flanagan said his speed has helped in the past and sees it as one of his top traits. 

“I would say I got some pretty good speed,” Flanagan said. “Just knowing my assignments and what to do in all the plays for all the situations.”

The ground game the past two years had been the strength of the Wildcat offense scoring 66 touchdowns since 2018 compared to 61 through the air.