Montana football: Jensen named to Jerry Rice Award watch list

In his short tenure as Montana’s starting quarterback, Gresch Jensen has led the Griz to three-straight wins and put up numbers that have ranked among the best in Grizzly history, and national selectors have been paying attention.

Jensen has turned heads this season since filling in for injured senior Reese Phillips, throwing for 1,630 yards and earning four honorable mentions for the STATS FCS Freshman Player of the Week award in the last five weeks.

Now he’s in the running to be the national freshman of the year.

Jensen was placed on the 2017 STATS FCS Jerry Rice Award watch list for the Freshman of the Year on Wednesday by the FCS newsgathering service.

“This is a great honor for Gresch and a real testament to how well our team as a whole is playing right now,” said head coach Bob Stitt.

Jensen is one of 17 players nominated for the award named for the Hall of Fame wide receiver that has been presented to the top freshman in the FCS since 2011.

The Auburn, Wash. native is the second Montana player in two years to be put on the list. Receiver Jerry Louie-McGee finished seventh in voting for the 2016 Jerry Rice Award, despite missing three games to injury.

Since getting his first start against Eastern Washington, Jensen has found his stride quickly, passing for the most yards ever for a freshman QB at Montana against North Dakota with 423.

Quarterback coach Andrew Selle thinks he’s just getting warmed up too.

“He’s done a great job for us,” said Selle, himself a former Grizzly QB. “In his first start, it was a big game, and we came out on the losing end, but since then he’s done a great job of managing us on offense, making plays, getting the ball in our guys’ hands and getting three big wins.

“He’s going to continue to get better, so this is great news for him.”

Not only has Jensen been efficient through the air with a 61.2 percent completion average and over 1,600 yards in the air, he’s also shown no fear as Montana’s third-leading rusher with four touchdowns and 115 yards on the ground.

That kind of fearless attitude is spreading among his teammates too.

“I think the guys embrace his attitude and understand it,” added Selle. “The team has kinda taken on that persona a little bit too. They understand how aggressive Gresch is and the type of player he is and they rally around him.”

Despite only starting four games, Jensen is already ranked in the top 30 nationally in passing touchdowns and points responsible for with 17 TDs on the year.

He’s also carrying the Big Sky Conference’s third-best passing efficiency on the season at 155.5. But since the beginning of league play, he’s put together the second most total offensive yards and passing yards per game.

Jensen is the only player from the Big Sky Conference to earn a nomination for the Jerry Rice Award and has the second-most passing yards among the other nominees behind Mercer’s Kaelan Riley (1,726).

Other notable players on the watch list include quarterback Caylin Newton of Howard University (the younger brother of Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton) and North Dakota State linebacker Jabril Cox.

A national panel of over 150 sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries will vote on the STATS FCS Jerry Rice Award for Freshman of the Year following the regular season.

Other national awards presented by STATS at the end of the year include the Walter Payton Award for Offensive Player of the Year (won by Dave Dickenson in 1995), the Buck Buchanan Award for Defensive Player of the year (won by Kroy Biermann in 2007 and Tyrone Holmes in 2015), the Eddie Robinson Award for Coach of the Year (won by Joe Glenn in 2000). STATS also presents the Doris Robinson Scholar-Athlete of the Year award

The nominees, listed alphabetically by last name:

Bryson Armstrong, Kennesaw State, LB, 5-11, 201, Marietta, Georgia
Statistics: 56 tackles, 6 TFL, 6 sacks, 3 INT, 4 PBU, 2 FR, 1 FF, 1 BLK (7 games)

Grant Breneman, Colgate, QB, 6-1, 195, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania
Statistics: 98 of 175 (56.1 percent), 1,188 yards, 12 TD, 1 INT; 89 carries, 268 yards, 4 TD (7 games)

Davis Cheek, Elon, QB, 6-2, 200, Matthews, North Carolina
Statistics: 93 of 148 (62.8 percent), 1,193 yards, 10 TD, 5 INT; 2 rushing TD (7 games)

Jabril Cox, North Dakota State, LB, 6-3, 220, Kansas City, Missouri
Statistics: 32 tackles, 4 1/2 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 FR, 1 FF (7 games)

Zane Dudek, Yale, RB, 5-9, 190, Kittanning, Pennsylvania
Statistics: 61 carries, 551 yards, 9.0 average, 8 TD; 11 receptions, 94 yards, 1 TD (6 games)

Wesley Dugger, Davidson, RB, 6-0, 192, Henrico, Virginia
Statistics: 136 carries, 721 yards, 4 TD (7 games)

Reynard Ellis, Furman, LB, 6-1, 227, Birmingham, Alabama
Statistics: 47 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 QBH (7 games)

Jaron Grayer, Maine, LB, 6-0, 224, Steelton, Pennsylvania
Statistics: 47 tackles, 4 1/2 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 FF (6 games)

Pete Guerriero, Monmouth, RB, 5-10, 195, Lyndhurst, New Jersey
Statistics: 93 carries, 586 yards, 6 TD; 8 receptions, 40 yards; 4 KR, 46.0 average, 1 TD (6 games)

Gresch Jensen, Montana, QB, 6-2, 215, Auburn, Washington
Statistics: 109 of 178 (61.2 percent), 1,630 yards, 13 TD, 6 INT; 33 carries, 115 yards, 4 TD (7 games)

Torrance Marable, Presbyterian, RB, 5-10, 185, Decatur, Georgia
Statistics: 111 carries, 592 yards, 3 TD; 6 catches, 86 yards, 2 TD (7 games)

Franklin “Mac” McCain III, North Carolina A&T, CB, 5-11, 174, Greensboro, North Carolina
Statistics: 33 TKL, 1 TFL, 5 INT (274 return yards), 3 TD, 6 PBU (8 games)

Caylin Newton, Howard, QB, 5-11, 195, Atlanta
Statistics: 85 of 163 (52.2 percent), 1,549 yards, 9 TD, 8 INT; 103 carries, 542 yards, 9 TD (7 games)

Kaelan Riley, Mercer, QB, 6-3, 231, Calhoun, Georgia
Statistics: 138 of 216 (63.9 percent), 1,726 yards, 13 TD, 6 INT; 62 carries, 172 yards, 3 TD (8 games)

Daniel Smith, Campbell, QB, 6-0, 200. Leesburg, Virginia
Statistics: 104 of 184 (56.5 percent), 1,401 yards, 15 TD, 3 INT; 77 carries, 711 yards, 9.2 average, 4 TD (7 games)

Isaiah Totten, North Carolina Central, RB/KR, 5-9, 185, Apex, North Carolina
Statistics: 87 carries, 525 yards, 4 TD; 2 catches, 8 yards; 11 KR, 19.6 average (7 games)

Mark Williams, Eastern Illinois, CB, 6-0, 160, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Statistics: 40 tackles, 3 INT (73 return yards), 1 TD, 6 PBU, 1 FR (8 games)