Leap of Faith

The signing day surprise of the 2009 class was Sam Montgomery, a four-star and the nation's No. 7 ranked defensive end prospect. Why did Montgomery take the leap and sign with head coach Les Miles, and how has the decision panned out?

When Sam Montgomery sat in front of a live television audience on February 4, three helmets lied on the table in front of him: Tennessee, LSU and North Carolina.

While most felt that the Greenwood, S.C. native would stay home on the east coast with the Tar Heels, Montgomery had other plans.

To understand his recruitment, you have to go back to the relationship built by former LSU defensive line coach Earl Lane. Lane impressed Montgomery enough to land the Tigers among his leaders without ever stepping foot on campus, and each passing month brought the two sides closer together.

Yet, when Lane left the LSU staff, his replacement – Brick Haley – had to start with Montgomery from scratch. Working quickly to make up for lost ground, Lane hopped on a plane with Haley to South Carolina. Once there, Lane would tell Montgomery and his mother why Haley, a man they had never met, would be the perfect coach for Sam.

“That was a real emotional time for me, to see coach Lane go,” Montgomery said. “I was not sure where LSU would stand with me after that, but the situation was handled with such class and dignity on coach Lane’s part that I could not turn away from the program. Coach Lane told me he did not want me missing a great opportunity just because he was not there anymore, and that situation really brought me closer to LSU than ever before.”

Head coach Les Miles followed Lane and Haley’s work up with a phone conversation with Sam’s mother the night before signing day. The next morning, Montgomery announced his intent to be a Tiger.

“It felt like it was the best opportunity for me, and I had to take it,” Montgomery said. “LSU has that history of playing on the big stage and putting their linemen into the league, and that is the ultimate goal for me.”

Yet, the family atmosphere that LSU provided was paramount - and the realization of how strong the team bond can be is beginning to set in.

“The one thing I have learned about LSU since being on campus is that no matter the position you play, it is all one big family,” Montgomery said. “This is all I have ever wanted. It is a home. I could care less about football when the day is done. As long as everyone gets along and jokes around, then I am smiling. I feel like for the first time I can play to my maximum potential, because I truly feel comfortable in my new home.”

Working under the watch of Haley, Montgomery said, has been one of the best experiences of his athletic career.

“What I love about coach Haley is that he never holds back, especially with his mouth,” Montgomery laughed. “He is always in my face and telling me what I need to do to get better, and he makes sure to let me know that I have a lot of work to do. He gets after every little detail in your game, and that is what I love him.

“I have never met anyone who pushed me so hard, both physically and mentally,” he continued. “[Haley] pushes you right to the edge, and that is where you will get better. You can’t be sensitive or take it to heart, because what he is teaching us is really about being a man and knowing how to handle life. The guy knows what he is doing.”

With Rahim Alem and Pep Levingston pegged as the starting defensive ends, Montgomery has been worked into the two-deep alongside Chase Clement, Lavar Edwards, Chancey Aghayere and Mike Brockers. How has he felt he graded out thus far?

“This ain’t Greenwood. This is Louisiana, that is for sure,” Montgomery said with a smile. “When you run with the big dogs and begin to understand D-I and the SEC, then you see how tough it is. I could be good one day and bad the next, but that is better than being complacent and performing on a level that I get comfortable with.

“I just try to keep making plays,” he added. “It is getting easier and easier for me everyday, but the competition keeps getting harder and harder at the same time. The guys tell me that in this league, you can beat someone up, but they are going to come back at you ten times stronger.”

Hoping to capitalize on as many learning opportunities as possible, Montgomery makes sure that Haley is not the only person on the defensive line that he is developing because of.

“You have to be a student of the game, which involves studying not just the playbook and coaches, but also your teammates,” Montgomery said. “If I am not involved in the play, I stare at my teammates. If someone gets through a hole quicker than me, I study his footwork and begin to understand why he got through that hole faster. I study his movements and his attitude, because if I can combine his approach and mine, I will be that much better.”

Montgomery, who stands at 6-foot-4, 240-pounds, said that the staff is working to add weight to his frame by the start of the season.

“I would love to keep my speed, that is the main thing,” he said. “The staff wants me to gain anywhere from 10 to 20 pounds. They want me to get that feel for how the bigger guys in the SEC play, but they also like where I am at with my speed coming off the edge. I have had some trouble keeping weight in the past, but coach Moffitt will work that out for me.”

Regardless, Montgomery said his best attribute is one that the scale won’t pick up.

“I have learned over the years that weight and height become meaningless if you don’t have heart,” he said. “And with me, I have a lot of heart. I try to get better and better every minute of everyday, and that is what makes you the best. You have to want it, first.”

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