MISSOULA — Montana's defensive secondary is one of the youngest position groups on the team.
One of the most experienced players in the defensive backfield is Markell Sanders, a redshirt junior cornerback from Renton, Washington.
Sanders stands out physically. He's 6-foot-2 and 189 pounds — a near-perfect frame for a corner.
"Athletically, Markell is everything you want in a corner," cornerbacks coach J.B. Hall Jr. said. "Tall, athletic, speed, very physical at the point of attack and he's a proven corner.
"He's started for the last two years. We have a ton of trust in him as far as the coaching staff goes and he is a dependable guy. His teammates know he's dependable. That speaks volumes on what he does in Saturday and out of Saturday, whether that be practice or game day, he's gonna work."
Sanders has started in 16 consecutive games — the most among any current defensive back — and has 16 total tackles, four pass breakups and an interception so far this year.
"Obviously he's one of the older guys in the room," defensive coordinator Jason Semore said. "He's played more snaps than everybody here. You expect a guy like that to be locked in, carry himself from a mature standpoint.
"His work ethic is second to none, so we're really excited to see how Markell finishes up his junior year."
Like several players on Montana's roster, Sanders transferred in. He's a former Washington State Cougar.
While he was there, he was nursing a shoulder injury he suffered in high school, making the transition to college slightly more difficult than average.
After one year in Pullman, Washington, Sanders found a home 255 miles east in Missoula.
"The culture was a little bit different here I noticed," Sanders said. "Just seeing how passionate the fans are here, the community, how involved everybody is. Then, just how passionate the guys are and how close they were. It spoke volumes. It made my decision to come here easier. Everything just felt right being around this atmosphere."
Even though Sanders loved his new school and football program, it still took him a little while to get adjusted.
"As any transfer would say, I think it's a little tough switching programs," he said. "It's a lot to get adjusted to with the new guys. But being here with the Griz, it wasn't too bad because there's a lot of guys out here who welcomed me in right away and it was easy to mesh with these guys out here. The first week or two was a little difficult, once you get to know the guys, it's pretty easy."
Two years after making the move, Sanders has developed into a mainstay on the Griz defense.
But just because he's made his mark, that doesn't mean he's coasting through anything.
"Markell is a guy that has always had tremendous physical ability," Semore said. "He's a Pac-12 caliber athlete. He's probably the biggest leader in the secondary in terms of being verbal, even more so than Justin Strong and Josh Sandry and them.
"So he's definitely a guy that all the guys look to."
Sanders has more of a team-focused approach rather than an individual-first attitude.
"I think things are rolling pretty smoothly," he said. "Each game, just working to get better and develop my game. As a defense, I feel like we've grown a lot over this last season. I think this year is going great.
"(Moving forward,) I think it's just a hard mental focus on just doing our job and making sure we're going out there and making plays each and every single game. I think that's the most important part."