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November 27, 2012
Nick Montana has new outlook on football
Nick Montana folds his tongue and bites down on top of it as if to restrain himself from saying something he'll regret.
It's his signature facial expression. It pops up whenever he grows angry or frustrated. According to his Hall-of-Fame father, it has been a staple for years.
Joe Montana has seen it during backyard games of catch and in the middle of hyper-competitive bouts of swimming pool basketball. He's witnessed it in wrestling matches gone too far and during heated arguments. His son has been flashing it since the toddler stage. At this point, it's simple instinct.
So it stands to reason that the Nick Montana frustration face revealed itself often during the only FBS-level start he's ever made -- the one that solidified his spot as Keith Price's backup at Washington, buried him on the Huskies' depth chart and ultimately resulted in his transfer to Mount San Antonio Community College in January.
More than a year later, Nick can recite his stat line from the day almost verbatim: 11-for-21, 72 yards, two touchdowns and a costly interception. It sticks with him like an eight-inch scar.
"There were some unrealistic expectations for Nick, I think," Joe Montana said. "And he only had that one opportunity as a freshman. That league is a buzz saw to begin with. And when people see that last name, if you start off rocky at all like he did, you better watch out."
The 38-21 loss to Oregon State was the end of Joe Montana's son. And that's fine because Joe Montana's son and Nick Montana are, at least in a way, different people.
Joe Montana's son arrived at Washington as the boy wonder -- the kid with the famous last name. Joe Montana's son is the player who lost focus. Joe Montana's son is the player who got caught up in being, well, Joe Montana's son.
"I'd change a lot of things if I could go back," Nick Montana said of his time in Seattle. "I'd take it more seriously. I jumped into the college life a little bit too much. I took things for granted right from the beginning. I took my foot off the gas.
"I was full of myself way too much. I didn't work like I worked in high school."
Turns out, Nick Montana is a completely different beast. He's the one fine-tuning his mechanics during his downtime and throwing in the backyard with his father on the rare occasions that he makes it home. Nick Montana is the guy who has worked diligently to improve his arm strength. He's the guy looking to move back to the FBS ranks next semester.
Nick Montana is the guy who recently completed 25 of 31 passes for 319 yards and three scores in Mount San Antonio's playoff win.
It wasn't until after that game, his team's biggest of the season, that he agreed to discuss his football future -- a future dependent on growing recruiting interest.
"I have an offer from Akron and Western Kentucky," he said. "I'm really talking a lot to Michigan, Arkansas State and Louisiana Tech. That's just off the top of my head. There are a few more schools."
All of that has been kept under the rug until now. And it hasn't been kept there by accident.
"Nicky is so nervous about publicity because he feels like as soon as he gets some attention ... he hates me talking about him," Joe Montana said. "He always says to my wife, 'Why does dad have to say that?' He's kind of protective of himself. I don't really know how else to explain it. I think he just wants to earn his own way."
It doesn't take much strain to imagine the difficulty of such a task. As a toddler, Nick appeared along with his family on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Later in life, his parents elected to slap his mother's maiden name on the back of his peewee football jersey in an attempt to calm the local buzz generated by the football-playing mini-Montana down the street.
"Changing the name was their way of trying to help me out with the pressure, but people caught on to that pretty quick," Nick said. "The comparisons and the talk about my dad have been going on as long as I can remember. There are positives and negatives."
Nick has been called "Joe Cool Jr." by total strangers and watched fans at his games ignore the action on the field to badger his father for autographs. On the other hand, his dad's personal assistant researched the depth charts and recruiting classes of nearly every team in the country to help determine the best options.
A normal football star he is not, not by a long shot.
When you consider the circumstances, whatever culture shock he experienced as a freshman at Washington seems almost inevitable in retrospect.
"Nobody lets him rest about his name," Joe Montana said. "We've tried to kind of shield him from it, but it's always there. He's learned to handle it."
Externally, this year has been more of the same. More pressure, more autograph seekers in the stands and more unfair comparisons. Internally, though, things these days are different.
There's a reason that coaxing an interview out of one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time is easier than getting in touch with his son.
"I've had a completely different approach this year," Nick said. "It's a completely different take on football for me."
And that new take features more Nick Montana and less Joe Montana's son.
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