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Sambrano Turns Attention To Gridiron Griz
Jabin Sambrano scored arguably the biggest touchdown of the Montana Grizzlies’ 2009 season (the game-winner against Appalachian State) and certainly the final one (a 53-yard catch and run in UM’s 23-21 national championship loss to Villanova).
Then football season ended, and he kept scoring.
Sambrano, 5-foot-11 and 176 pounds, placed fifth in both the 55 and 200-meter dashes at the Big Sky Conference indoor meet, Feb. 27 in Bozeman. Those eight points helped UM finish third at the two-day meet, its best showing in 16 years.
Now he’s going to hang up the spikes, briefly, because spring football drills begin for the Griz on Monday. A third-year junior, he’ll bolster a receiving crew that lost All-American Marc Mariani as well as Ty Palmer.
He’ll also be running around River Bowl and Washington-Grizzly Stadium under the gaze of new coach Robin Pflugrad, who was elevated to replace Bobby Hauck when Hauck left for UNLV after Christmas.
Early mornings under Hauck during winter conditioning have come even earlier at times: Sambrano has had to adjust to getting up as early as 5 a.m. But he has adjusted, because besides wanting to be 185 pounds by next season, he wants to keep improving.
“This is what it’s going to take,” he said. “To have the extra boost not to lose by two points in the final game.”
Sambrano, who was recruited by Cal Poly and Northwestern but didn’t have the academics squared away to go there, has flourished at Montana. He caught 31 passes for 512 yards and five touchdowns last fall for the 14-1 Griz. He also averaged 24.8 yards per kick return and took his one punt return 26 yards.
Maybe he’ll get more of those. Here’s the rest of an interview with Sambrano, who turned 20 on Sunday:
Q. It’s easy for people to forget you played right away here, as a true freshman. You ever think about having that redshirt year?
A. I think about that every year. When I go up a year, I go, ‘Man, I wonder how much better I would be if I had that extra year.’ Being a junior in football and only 19 years old, that’s pretty scary. I’ll be 21 when I’m a senior. I wish I had a year back to just improve on my game. But it’s just a sacrifice you have to make.
Q. I know it wasn’t really an option for football players before Hauck left, but what possessed you to run track?
A. My dad always told me you’ve got to start doing extra things, you know? I can’t be following what other people are doing. Every year I’ve been doing track, since high school, I’ve been getting better and better. When coach gave me the thumbs up to run this spring, I said, ‘I’m going to do that, and I’m going to get faster.’ But it really comes down to just doing the extra work.
Q. Were you happy with your performance at the Big Sky indoor meet?
A. I gave it the best I had. If I had a little more practice - if I had a more than three or four weeks to run - I think I would’ve been better out of the blocks. But that’s not an excuse. You do the best you can.
Q. Did you try to get Marc Mariani off the tennis court and onto the track?
A. He was at the meet. I kept teasing him, telling him, ‘You don’t need to ruin those golden legs. That’s your ticket out of here.’ He’s done enough. But Gerald (Kemp, Sambrano’s roommate) is going to be healthy soon and he’ll be running with me. And Trumaine (Johnson) said he wants to run track this spring.
Q. So spring ball won’t prevent you from competing in the outdoor season?
A. The coaches work with me - they just said, ‘As long as it doesn’t interfere.’ Right after football ends, immediately I’ll start spring track. We’ll probably have four or five weeks to run.
Q. Coaching changes are often difficult. How do you think this is going?
A. It’s a little hard to adjust because their styles are so different. Coach Pflu, everything is fast-paced. Everything. Drills, workouts, everything. We’ll be OK - we’re in that routine, we’re aware of what we need to do. It’s only for the better too, because I can feel the difference already. I can feel myself putting on weight slowly but surely, and getting stronger.
Q. Did you lobby for punt returns now that Mariani is gone?
A. That’s always a choice. I always played punt return in high school and when I was recruited Coach Hauck said he wanted me in the return game. But you had Marc; that’s a God-given talent. Anything that helps the team. I’d enjoy returning punts.
Q. How much time have you had to spend learning a new offense?
A. They’re not trying to bombard us with plays, or overwhelm us. Starting Monday I’m going to be looking at that playbook for at least two hours a day. But right now they just want us to get a real general idea of the formations, routes you’re going to be running. They’re starting us in kindergarten in terms of the playbook.
Q. How did you end up at UM? Was it a tough call to come to Montana?
A. It wasn’t too tough of a choice. Grades-wise, I didn’t do it right in school, and it was a true blessing to come here. It was nice to not have to go to a JC and try to get it right there. I just feel blessed that Coach Hauck gave me this opportunity. I wanted to stay close to home, close to my mom. But Montana said, ‘Come over here,’ and I said, ‘Alright you don’t have to ask me twice.’
Red turf or green turf? Green turf. I don’t want any red turf.
55 or 200? 200 meters.
Screen or fade? The fade. Throw it long, baby. Throw it deep. I’m going to go get it.
By Fritz Neighbor, The Missoulian