MISSOULA — The only pancakes Montana offensive lineman Angel Villanueva is hungry for are pancake blocks.
Villanueva had the Grizzlies’ transformation of the offseason, dropping nearly 40 pounds since the end of last season. He did that by paying better attention to his nutrition and diet, cutting out his beloved pancakes and other food, and continuing to work out at a high level.
It was a lifestyle change that the senior realized he needed to make when he was bumped down to a backup last October after making 29 consecutive starts. The coaching staff reinforced what he had been telling himself when they talked with him after the season, making him look inward even more.
“I think it was the biggest wake-up call of my life as far as my football career,” Villanueva said after the second day of fall camp on Wednesday.
“The coaches have had nothing but faith in me, belief in me. The words that they told me, they kept it real, they kept it true. Because of that, it made me sit myself down and made me reflect on what I wanted, who I wanted to be and the player I wanted to be. It was a tough time, but I pushed past it.”
Through two fall practices, Villanueva has been practicing with the first-team offense at left guard. It’s the position he started at going back to his redshirt freshman season and one that head coach Bobby Hauck said is up for grabs.
The Griz brought in junior college transfer Moses Mallory to compete for the job. Then there’s Skyler Martin, who took over at the position in the final four games last year.
What Hauck wants to see out of Villanueva during fall camp is simple after Villanueva wasn’t a full participant during spring camp.
“We just want him to increase his level of play,” Hauck said. “He’s committed to improvement. I think he’s down about 40 pounds, which is helping him. It’s a big fall camp for him.”
At 6-foot-5, Villanueva checks in between 300-305 pounds. He came into last year at 324 and got up to 335-340 by the end of the season as fast food left him burned out at nights and not wanting to get out of bed in the morning.
When Villanueva put his mind to it, he decided he’d no longer eat out multiple times a week. He started dividing his meals into five to eight small ones throughout the day instead of three big ones in which he'd eat until he was stuffed.
Villanueva would even pester strength and conditioning coach Matt Nicholson with questions until he ran out and then return later with more. During spring camp, he’d work out with Nicholson and the training staff to get into shape while others were practicing with the team.
When results were slow, Villanueva doubted himself. But now he feels like a different type of player than he had been in the past.
“I feel a lot more limber,” Villanueva said. “My mobility is coming up. I’m able to move a little better, stretch a little better, bend a little easier. It doesn’t take me as long to stretch enough to be able to be so low to play my position and move around.
“I think that’s going to play a part in the type of offense we run. We have guys that truly believe in moving all the time. It’s not just finishing a block and then just standing there watching them run down the field. It’s chasing the blocks, doing that extra stuff.”
Villanueva believes the dietary changes have altered his attitude for the better, too.
“I feel like because of my nutrition aspect, I’m in such a better mood all the time,” he said. “It gives me the strength and energy to not only find it within myself to be able to keep pushing but to help try to bring these other guys along with me.”
That aspect of being a model teammate helped motivate him to make the change.
“I realized it wasn’t about me,” Villanueva said. “If I want to uphold the standard of being Montana tough and being for the team and with the team, then I had to sacrifice some of my own selfish desires in order to not only be the player that I want to be but a teammate and a good brother to these guys. I felt that was the next step to make that comeback to not only be what I was but to be even better.”
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In terms of those who packed on muscle, there was no stopping Gavin Crow from displaying his offseason gains. He spent the first two days of fall camp with his jersey tucked into a crop-top look and his sleeves rolled up.
Crow put on 14 pounds since last season, the most among any returning defensive back, to get up to 220 pounds.
“I feel faster and stronger,” Crow said. “I just feel good.”
The thinking behind bulking up is it would suit him after he moved from defensive back to safety in the spring to play the position he was recruited to play. He’s been practicing with the second-team defense in a deep safety group at the Griz position, a hybrid safety and linebacker.
“As a corner, you’re stuck on an island,” Crow said. “As a safety, I get to work with two other guys, so it makes it more easy to rely on each other. I like that. I think I finally found my fit in that Griz spot.”
It turns out Crow is also proud of something else he added over the summer: a mullet dyed blonde in the back. He doesn’t call it a mullet, referring to it as “a bald eagle with little flames coming out the back, spreading freedom across the field.”
“He’s very proud of his mullet,” sophomore safety Robby Hauck said. “We always talk about it that if anybody can rock a mullet, it’d be him. He’s got the attitude for it.”
As for what the attitude is Hauck was talking about, Crow believes they share those traits.
“Me and Robby are crazy guys,” he said. “We like contact. We don’t shy away from it. We see it, we run towards it with a smile on our face. I’m glad to be on kickoff with him. We’re going to cause some chaos.”
Junior cornerback Josh Egbo had offseason ACL surgery, according to his Instagram post on June 19. He played in eight games last year and spent the first two days of fall camp on the sideline wearing a brace on his left leg.
Hauck declined to comment about the recovery timeline for Egbo.
“Yeah, we don’t do any injuries,” he said.
Returning starting quarterback Dalton Sneed spent the vast majority of Wednesday’s shorts-and-helmet practice standing on the sideline or behind the offense, talking with coaches and other quarterbacks.
Junior Cam Humphrey took the first-team reps. During 11-on-11s, he had touchdown passes to Samori Toure, who had a big first day of fall camp, and Gabe Sulser, who made a leaping catch at the sideline about 25 yards down field and kept his balance. Humphrey also found Mitch Roberts deep over the middle three times, the final one being a full-extension diving catch.
The success was met with struggles. Jace Lewis and Gavin Robertson picked off Humphrey once each, and Robertson knocked down another pass. Jesse Sims, Alex Gubner and one other player batted down his passes at the line.
Redshirt freshman Garrett Graves handled second-team reps. True freshman Kris Brown had the other reps, connecting with true freshman Jesse Owens on a post route over the top of the defense for a touchdown.