Justin Calhoun admits he didn't know a lot about Bobby Hauck when he was announced as Montana’s head coach last November. But he learned quickly about how Hauck went 80-17 in his first stint as the head coach of the Grizzlies from 2003-09 and won at least a share of the Big Sky Conference title every season while appearing in a few Division I-AA/FCS national title games.
Hauck has flipped Montana’s style of play offensively from an up-tempo, spread-you-out scheme to a team that wants to be physical and run the ball. Calhoun, one of Montana’s top wide receivers who's had a ton of targets in previous years, embraced that change.
The junior from Long Beach, Calif., even offered to make a sacrifice for the team. Recognizing the amount of depth at wide receiver and the thin cornerback's room, Calhoun went to the coaches in spring ball and said he could help out on defense, where he played some defensive back in high school.
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Initially, the coaches appreciated the gesture but liked what he had to offer as a receiver. After all, Calhoun was Montana’s second-leading pass catcher as a redshirt freshman in 2016 with 42 receptions for 625 yards and six touchdowns. Last year, he added 32 catches for 505 yards and four scores.
RS Freshman WR Justin Calhoun made some incredible grabs vs ISU. He leads the Griz with 559 yards on the year pic.twitter.com/Jvoj3o9oKb
— Shaun Rainey (@ShaunRainey) November 6, 2016
But at the start of preseason camp in the first meeting of the 2018 season, Calhoun was told he’d be making the permanent switch to cornerback.
“At first I thought it was going to be like riding a bicycle,” Calhoun told HERO Sports. “But honestly, it really was hard. Just being able to read the quarterback, control my eyes, be patient with my press technique and be able to break on things. Breaking came back easier, but everything else was really tough. I had to study myself on film to get back into the swing of things.”
After settling into the position, Calhoun has provided a spark for the Griz defense that looks stout in their first two contests. He has started both home games with seven solo tackles, nine total, one tackle for loss, one sack and three pass breakups.
He looks right at home, but one thing he admits he wasn't ready for was the noise. Calhoun is used to Washington-Grizzly Stadium being silent when he’s on the field. But now as a defender, he’s in action in perhaps the loudest stadium in the FCS.
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“It was loud and very energetic,” Calhoun said. “It was wild and I never experienced that before on the field. I really couldn't hear anything or even hear myself talk anymore. But I embraced it and took it head-on.”
Speaking of energetic, there’s been a lot of energy around this Montana team, now 2-0 and ranked No. 16 in HERO Sports’ BennettRank computer rating, since Hauck has returned. The Grizzlies missed out on the playoffs the previous two seasons, which is not the standard for one of the subdivision’s premier programs.
Hauck has come in and not only changed the makeup of this team but also how things are done to get Montana football back to being Montana football.
“It was a full 180,” Calhoun said. “We were coached way differently and way harder when he came in. Everybody really embraced him. There are a couple guys that aren't here now, so not everybody, but most people embraced it. We kept pushing forward and listened to the coaches. We know coach Hauck before has led teams to national championships and that’s what we want to get to.”
Calhoun had to be filled in back in November on what Hauck brings to the table. He did have a former coach who played for Hauck and warned Calhoun that they’re “going to be coached totally different than what we’re used to.”
But Calhoun has embraced not only that change but his switch to the defensive side of the ball. And so far, he’s proven to be one of many factors that have created a spark for Montana football.