Cougs offer Cordova phenom

<b>LONG TIME FOLLOWERS of Pac-10 recruiting will tell you 1981 was the year of Kevin Willhite. The Rancho Cordova gamebreaker was the consensus No. 1 prep running back in the nation and the final battle for his services, between Oregon and Washington, had more twists than a barrel of pretzels. Nearly a quarter century later, another running back from Cordova High, James Montgomery, is being talked about in the same breathless tones --- except he just might be better than his predecessor.

Coaching legend Max Miller started at Cordova more than 40 years ago. He's seen some fine talent in his five-plus decades, with Willhite --- who ended up in Eugene --- among the best of the best.

"I had the best player in the nation in 1981 in Kevin Willhite and I hate to say James is better," said Miller. "But he is."

Willhite's college career was ruined by injuries. Old-timers down south say a healthy Montgomery could show the college football world what might have been.

WASHINGTON STATE HAS offered the Sierra Valley Conference MVP, with Ken Greene making a connection with the the 5-11, 195-pounder when the Cougar defensive backs coach was down at Cordova.

"I like Washington State a lot," said Montgomery. "When coach Greene came down he was really cool --- I liked him a lot."

In addition to the Cougs, Montgomery holds scholarship offers from Arizona, Arizona State and Northwestern. USC, Alabama, Tennessee, Cal, Stanford, Oregon, Boston College and Washington are among those coming on strong.

(The Sacramento Bee reported he had received an offer from the UW, but Montgomery told us the Huskies have not yet come forth.)

Ideally, but not necessarily, he says, he'd prefer a school within a few hours by air from nearby Sacramento. A position coach will be a key part of his decision, he added.

"If I like it when I get there, then (distance) won't really be a factor," said Montgomery. "I like the person that can teach me a lot. I just want to learn. I know all the running back coaches at the Division I level are all pretty good, it'll just be how well they relate to me."

Montgomery has good speed (10.76 in the 100-meters), excellent field vision and instincts galore. He has the ability to take over a game, like the time last season when he ripped off 380 yards and 9 TDs in one night.

Extremely coachable and possessing a strong work ethic, Montgomery soaks up football knowledge, says Miller. During his sophomore year, he served primarily as a fullback, plowing the road for senior Dywan Brown on his way to his 2,000 yard season. Montgomery excelled in that role, Miller says. That translated into a learned ability to set up his own blocks when Montgomery got his turn to carry the ball.

This past year, as the feature back, he rushed for 1,915 yards on 215 carries with 33 touchdowns.

THIS TRACK SEASON, Montgomery will compete in the 100, 200, 4x100 and 4x400. If his track schedule allows, he'd like to attend junior days at USC, Arizona and ASU, the NIKE camp at Stanford in May, and however many other camps he can fit in.

Miller says that Montgomery, as impressive in the classroom as on the field, has a very bright future at the next level and beyond.

"He's going to be successful in life no matter what he chooses to do," said Miller. "Some school is going to be getting a great person in their football program."

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