Three years ago, Ashland High School's Matt Lipski, after a stint on the Grizzlies' varsity water polo team, stepped on to the football field for the very first time.

Three years ago, Ashland High School's Matt Lipski, after a stint on the Grizzlies' varsity water polo team, stepped on to the football field for the very first time.

On Sunday, Lipski took another step in his football journey when the 6-foot-9, 325-pound offensive tackle verbally agreed to play football for the University of Montana Grizzlies next season.

"For Matt to come from that point to where he is getting a four-year scholarship is pretty impressive," Ashland coach Charlie Hall said. "That shows his determination. He is very deserving of this opportunity."

Lipski spent his official 48-hour visit last weekend in Missoula, Mont., meeting with coaches, players and other recruits before offering his commitment on Sunday.

"I had a great time on my visit," Lipski said. "It's a real family atmosphere and a place I could fit in. Really, it seemed like everything fit into place. I'm excited to get up there."

Collegiate coaches are not permitted to comment on recruits until after the national signing day, which is Feb. 6. Montana is coming off a an 11-1 season, including the school's 10th straight Big Sky Conference title. The Grizzlies lost in the first round of the playoffs.

Lipski, a right tackle, helped Ashland to an 11-1 record last season, its only loss coming in the quarterfinals of the Class 5A state playoffs. It was the Grizzlies first league title since 1998 and first playoff appearance since 2000.

Hall said, through conversations with Montana coaches, that Lipski is likely to redshirt next season.

Montana returns four senior offensive linemen.

"I have no problem with that," Lipski said of redshirting. "It's going to be an open competition next year. I'll have my chance.

"Aside from my size, I feel like, through my time at Ashland, I gained a lot of leadership skills and improved my work ethic. I'm excited to get out there and get to work."

Lipski was actively drawing interest from Oregon, Oregon State, UNLV, Cal, Michigan, and Montana State as well as Montana.

"I think the bigger schools were concerned about his pad level," said Hall, a former offensive coordinator at Northern Arizona University, also of the Big Sky Conference. "They were concerned about him being able to stay low consistently. They weren't ready to pull the trigger. Montana feels they got a steal, in talking with them. They feel really good about what Matt can bring to their program.

"You can't argue with Montana's track record. They are one of the premier programs in the country in regards to (NCAA Div.) I-AA football."

Montana has 22 straight winning seasons and has played in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Div. I-AA) championship game five of the last 12 seasons, winning titles in 1995 and 2001. The Grizzlies also have a 140-19 record at home since the middle of the 1986 season.

"Seeing their 10 straight Big Sky Conference rings and national championship rings was a pretty amazing sight," Lipski said. "Year in and year out, the team is competing for championships and that is pretty exciting. I really feel like I'm going to the right place."

Lipski, who has an aunt in Missoula, plans to leave for Montana in June and will pursue a degree in education.

The Grizzlies open the season Sept. 6 at Cal Poly.

Reach sports reporter Luke Andrews at 776-4469, or e-mail landrews@mailtribune.com