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Legacy commits, in-state recruits highlight Montana's 13-player early signing period class

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Posted at 7:22 PM, Dec 21, 2022

MISSOULA — Football just ended in Montana, but Wednesday's early signing period got underway with players around the state and country making their college commitments official.

It's here every year and adds some excitement for next season, and at the University of Montana that was no different as UM added their newest batch of Grizzlies.

"We're always going to have two foundational elements in every recruiting class in our recruiting and that's going to be high school kids and Montana kids," UM coach Bobby Hauck said. "This is a great day to get guys signed, we'll continue to recruit so the foundation of our class is these guys that we're announcing today."

The Grizzlies announced the signing of 13 high school players on Wednesday, including eight from Montana. UM signed four offensive linemen, three linebackers, two quarterbacks, two receivers, one defensive lineman and one running back.

The class includes a pair from Class AA state champion Helena Capital in Hayden Opitz and Austin Buehler, along with Butte's Cameron Gurnsey, Billings West's Jaxon Tucker and Kalispell Glacier's Gage Sliter as their signees from Class AA schools.

Missoula Sentinel lineman Tate Templeton is also staying home to play for his hometown team, something he's always dreamed of.

"My entire life I've either watched the games on TV or have been at the games," Templeton said. "I can count it on one hand how many games I've missed in all 17 years of my life so far. Super special that I have this opportunity to go play for them."

The Griz also added a pair of players from Class A schools in Billings Central's Clay Oven along with Libby's Cy Stevenson.

UM added five players from out of state, most notably quarterback Keali'i Ah Yat, the son of Griz Hall of Famer Brian Ah Yat.

Quarterback is a question mark at Montana right now with the loss of Lucas Johnson and transfer of Daniel Britt, so Ah Yat's pedigree and family ties make him a notable prospect coming to Missoula.

"Brian Ah Yat was a great player here, was a hall of famer," Hauck said. "To have his son here is a really cool deal but the reason Keali'i is here is because he's a good player. He can do a lot of things. He came to camp here and really did a great job. He's a great young man. We're just excited to have him."

Hauck added that this group is just the beginning, and the Grizzlies will expect to add more transfers and signings to round out the class later this winter. The next signing period will open in February.

But overall the Griz sounded pleased with the players they signed, saying they fit the mold of what UM wants.

"Guys know what our program is about and they know that they're going to be coached, the high school coaches know that they're going to be coached, so they don't want our guys to leave Montana," running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Justin Green said. "I would say that it's kind of shown true, we haven't had as many guys in the portal as other schools may have."

Below are bios of the 13 players who signed with UM on Wednesday. Information and bios are per a media release from the University of Montana.

Keali'I Ah Yat / QB / 6-1 / 185 / Kailua, Hawaii / Kamehameha HS

High School: As a senior Ah Yat threw for 1,249 yards and nine touchdowns, completing 117 of 210 passes in eight games… Rushed for 104 yards and four touchdowns on 66 attempts… As a junior threw 10 touchdowns and ran for three more… Threw for a career high 346 and four touchdowns against the storied Saint Louis Crusaders program out of Honolulu… Named All-Hawaii Open Division honorable mention as a junior

Personal: Father Brian Ah Yat is a Grizzly Sports Hall of Fame and All-America quarterback who led Montana to the 1996 1-AA national championship game.

Quoting Coach Hauck: "Keali'i had an interesting recruiting process. With Hawaii so locked down during the pandemic, he didn't have a lot of film. But he came to our camp and just blew it out. He was absolutely terrific at camp. He also has good high school film from this fall. He's a really great get for us. He was a man of his word with this commitment, and is just a really outstanding get as the quarterback in this class."

Austin Buehler / OL / 6-5 / 250 / Helena, Mont. / Capital HS

High School: Helped lead the Bruins to the 2022 Montana State AA Championship with a 35-14 win over Bozeman in the final… Earned first-team all-state and first-team all-conference honors at tackle his senior year… Earned second team all-conference honors as a junior… Helped the Bruins rush for 2,875 yards and 39 touchdowns as a senior, with the offense averaging 6.9 yards per carry… Listed as a two-star prospect by 247 Sports… Played on both sides of the ball at Capital… Played defensive tackle and was credited with 40 total tackles and two TFLs his senior year… Was also a letter winner on Capital's State AA championship basketball team in early 2022… Also held offers from Eastern Washington, Montana Tech, and Carroll College.

Personal: His father Eric Buehler was a four-year letterman at D-End for Montana from 1995-1998 and was a member of the 1995 national championship team… Mother Gretta (Koss) Buehler was an All-American and Big Sky MVP for the Lady Griz, and is now a member of the Grizzly Sports Hall of Fame.

Quoting Coach Hauck: "Austin is another legacy kid on our football team. He's got a big frame and moves his feet well. He's a two-sport guy, played both offense and defense, and has a great temperament. He's a state champion and I'm excited about him joining the program."

Dylan Cohen / OL / 6-1 / 280 / Seattle, Wash. / O'Day HS

High School: Listed as a two-star prospect by 247Sports… Ranked as the No. 10 OL in Washington… Named first-team all-metro at center as a senior… Helped the Irish to a 10-2 overall record and a second-place finish in the 3-A Metro District at 6-1… Finished the year as the No. 9 overall team in Washington in the MaxPreps top-25… Prep coach was Monte Kohler.

Personal: Mother Jennifer Cohen is the Director of Athletics at the University of Washington

Quoting Coach Hauck: "Dylan Cohen is another guy that came to our camp last summer has been here for numerous games. He's just an awesome guy. The more offensive front guys that we have in our program, the better we're going to be, and Dylan is a kid that we're excited to welcome into the program."

Lucas Freitas / OL / 6-6 / 295 / Snoqualmie, Wash. / Mount Si HS

High School: A two-way star for Mount Si at guard and D-tackle… Rated a two-star prospect by 247Sports… Named the 2022 All-KingCo co-Lineman of the Year on offense and defense. A Second-team All-King Co. as a junior… Ranked the No. 48 overall player in Washington and the No. 4 tackle in the state by MaxPreps… Helped the Wildcats rack up 1,652 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, averaging nearly six yards per carry in 2022… Was originally committed to Eastern Washington… Prep coach was Steve Botulinski

Quoting Coach Hauck: "Lucas is a late addition to the class. He's a big kid, he's got a great frame, and he's got good film. He's a guy that we liked last spring when we were out on the road and made a good evaluation on him. He wasn't able to come to camp this summer so he kind of slid to the backburner, but he's a guy we really like and are glad to add to the class."

Cameron Gurnsey / WR / 6-0 / 180 / Butte, Mont. / Butte HS

High School: First-team all-state at wide receiver as a senior… Caught 52 passes for 769 yards and seven TDs in 11 games in his senior campaign… Finished his career with 1,977 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns on 140 receptions at Butte High, averaging 14.1 yards per catch and 73.2 yards per game in three years as a letterman… As a junior caught 65 passes for 967 yards and six touchdowns for the Bulldogs… Averaged 107.4 yards per catch in nine games, and he led the team in receptions, yards and average… Passed the 100-yard receiving mark in five games… Named All-State as a junior at wide receiver… As a sophomore he caught 23 passes for 241 yards and three touchdowns, leading the team in receptions, yards, average and TD's in a Covid-shortened year… Also ran track and plays basketball for the Bulldogs.. Cleared six feet in the high jump as a junior… Averaged 8.8 points and 3.6 rebounds as a junior on the basketball court.

Personal: Dad Scott Gurnsey was a four-time letterman and All-Big Sky wide receiver for the Griz from 1991-94… Scott has also served as part of the Montana football radio crew for over 20 years

Quoting Coach Hauck: "Cam is another guy whose dad played in our program and who grew up around Griz football. He was a really productive player out of Butte High School, and we love getting Butte guys here. Cam's got great hands and he's a really good technician for a guy his age. He's been well coached. We're excited for him to come in here and put on the pads for the Griz."

Jaylen Hall / WR / 6-0 / 180 / El Cajon, Calif. / Mater Dei Catholic HS

High School: Helped lead the Crusaders to back-to-back CIF 2-AA state championships with a 26-18 win over McClymonds with an 11-4 overall record in 2022… Caught 17 passes for 315 yards and four TDs in his senior season, averaging 18.5 yards per catch… Key part of a passing attack that racked up 3.672 yards in the air in 2022… As a junior caught 20 passes for 421 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 21.1 yards per catch… Also rushed for 112 yards on seven carries with three touchdowns… Rated as a three-star prospect by 247Sports… Also ran track for Mater Dei, running an 11.59 PR in the 100 as a junior… Also held offers from Holy Cross and Idaho State with interest from San Diego State and Hawaii… Prep coach was John Joyner

Personal: Maintains a 3.8 GPA… Announced his commitment on KUSI's Prep Pigskin Report, a local TV show

Quoting Coach Hauck: "Mater Dei High School in the southern part of San Diego is a great program. Jalen has been up here and fell in love with Montana. He was an early commitment with us and withstood some recruiting pressure. We're excited that he's joining us."

Hayden Opitz / LB / 6-2 / 215 / Helena, Mont. / Capital HS

High School: Helped lead the Bruins to the 2022 Montana State AA Championship with a 35-14 win over Bozeman in the final… An all-state performer in three different sports… As a senior was named first-team all-state at both tight end and inside linebacker, also earned first-team all-conference honors at both positions… Caught 33 passes for 491 yards and five touchdowns as a senior tight end while racking up 92 tackles (84 solo) with six TFLs in 12 games at linebacker… Also had three pass deflections, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries… As a junior earned second-team all-state honors at tight end, and was a first-team all-state pick on the Bruins' state AA champion basketball team… Averaged 11.2 points and a team-high 6.7 rebounds and made 52 percent of his shots from the field that season… Was also part of Capital's 400-meter relay team that took fourth at the Class AA state meet his junior year… Caught 31 passes for 334 yards and two touchdowns in 2021… Posted 11 receptions for 113 yards as a sophomore in 2020… Rated a two-star prospect by 247Sports…

Personal: Father Chad played for the Griz in the early 90's and his parents are both alums… Carries a 4.0 GPA

Quoting Coach Hauck: "Hayden is a versatile player. He's a state champ from Capital that can play a lot of positions. We see him on the defensive side of the ball. He's got a tremendous upside because of his frame and his speed. He could be a dynamic player for us."

Clay Oven / LB / 6-2 / 205 / Billings, Mont. / Central HS

High School: A two-time first-team all-state linebacker on defense and a first-team all-state running back as well… As a senior racked up 53 total tackles and led his team in TFLs with eight and sacks with four… Also intercepted a pass… A three-sport athlete who also plays basketball and runs track at Billings Central… Helped lead Rams football to the State A title game in 2022 with a 10-2 overall record and 6-1 regional record… On the track he finished fifth in the 400-meter run at the Class A state meet in 2022 with a time of 51.16, and was fifth in the long jump, as well, leaping 20 feet, 11¾ inches… Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports… Also received offers from Montana State, Carroll, Dickinson State, and Montana Tech… Prep coach was Jim Stanton

Quoting Coach Hauck: "Clay was just one of the great players in the state this year. He was a highly recruited guy. He's a big, fast, linebacker, similar to other guys we've recruited over the years. I think he's got a very bright future."

Gage Sliter / QB / 6-1 / 180 / Kalispell, Mont. / Glacier HS

High School: Earned first-team all-state and all-conference honors at quarterback following his senior season… Rated a two-star prospect by 247Sports… Led the Wolfpack to a 7-4 record with a class-AA high 3,175 yards in the air and 36 TDs with 204 rushing yards and three additional TDs his senior season… His total of 3,175 passing yards is the second-most in Glacier history… Threw 57 career TD passes including a career-high seven in one game against Belgrade… Capped his career having completed 366 of 585 passes for 5,398 yards… Prep coach is former Grizzly Grady Bennett.

Personal: Holds a 3.92 GPA… Both his parents are Montana alums

Quoting Coach Hauck: "Gage is a guy who grew up around our program. We've been watching him in our summer camps for years and he's really developed into a fine player. He's a guy that's going to come in and provide depth at the quarterback position."

Cy Stevenson / LB / 6-2 / 210 / Libby, Mont. / Libby HS

High School: A Montana Class-A first-team all-state pick at both running back and linebacker… Led the Loggers in rushing with 1,323 yards on 144 carries and 15 touchdowns… Also caught 14 passes for 183 yards and two TDs… Defensively, he totaled 136 tackles (the second-most in class-A football), including 42 solo stops with 10 TFLs and 2.5 sacks… Earned Class-A all-state honors as a junior. Has played linebacker, safety, defensive end, running back, wide receiver and tight end…. Earned a silver medal in the shot put at the state-A track and field meet as a junior. Also plays basketball. The first Libby Logger to play for the Griz since George Mercer in 2005 and Grizzly Sports Hall of Famer Vince Huntsberger before him.

Quoting Coach Hauck: "Cy has a great frame. He played a lot of positions in high school like a lot of the smaller school guys do, but he was terrific in our camp this summer. That's a recurring theme with a lot of these guys. We see him in camp, they do a nice job and end up on our team, and Cy placed himself in front of a lot of guys in terms of players we were recruiting."

Tate Templeton / OL / 6-3 / 270 / Missoula, Mont. / Sentinel HS

High School: A first-team all-conference and all-state tackle on the offensive line at Sentinel High School… Helped the Spartans to two-straight State-AA titles and the state semifinal his senior season… Played defensive line as well… Also competes in track at Sentinel.

Personal: Father TJ Templeton is a highway patrolman who often provides security for the Montana football staff on the road

Quoting Coach Hauck: "Tate is a local guy from Sentinel High School who joins several other Spartans on our roster, and like those guys I think he's going to work hard to get into the mix. He's a big kid and we can't have enough guys like Tate on our team."

Jaxon Tucker / DL / 6-3 / 240 / Billings, Mont. / West HS

High School: A first-team all-state selection and an eastern AA all-conference selection on offense at guard… Honorable mention all-conference at defensive end… Helped the Golden Bears finish second the Eastern AA standings... Expected to play D-line at Montana

Quoting Coach Hauck: Jaxon has had to battle through a bunch of adversity the last couple years in terms of injury, but he's a guy that just keeps coming. He's got a big frame, has got good movement, and is good with his hands. We're excited about what he brings to the table."

Iverson Young / RB / 5-10 / 196 / Waxahachie, Texas / Waxahachie HS

High School: A three-star prospect according to 247Sports, also the highest rated recruit in UM history, as rated by 247Sports… In three seasons as a letterman… Racked up 2,654 yards and 26 rushing TDs on 436 carries, an average of over six yards per tote, in three seasons… As a junior earned a Texas District 11-6A first-team selection… Ran for 916 yards on 170 carries (5.39 ypc), and caught eight passes for 82 yards… Played his sophomore season at Red Oak (Texas). Posted 163-1,153-12 rushing (7.07 ypc) and 1-9 receiving… Also held offers from Louisiana Tech, UNLV, Alcorn State, Arkansas State, Colorado State, Montana State, Incarnate Word, Houston Christian, Rice, Utah State, Lamar, North Texas, and Stony Brook.

Quoting Coach Hauck: "We're excited about Iverson. He caught our eye last spring when Coach (Ronnie) Bradford was in Texas recruiting. We kept our eye on him through the fall and we're grateful that we've been able to land him in this recruiting class. I think he's a terrific prospect. He does a lot of good things. He's good with the ball his hands, he's got good size around 200 pounds and before long he'll be 220 pounds and a really good player."