By STAN OLSON
Sam Montgomery woke up Wednesday morning and suddenly —finally — he knew.
He was going to be a Bayou Bengal. He was going to LSU.
Montgomery, a Greenwood High defensive end and The Observer’s No.2 football prospect in the state of South Carolina, held his decision close. His mother Debra was fairly certain of it. No one else was.
The pair and a group of eight more friends and family headed for the posh south Charlotte studios of ESPNU. There Montgomery, sitting at a table behind the helmets of finalists Tennessee, LSU and North Carolina, said nice things about each school. Then he announced his choice to a national television audience shortly after 10:30 a.m.
It didn’t come easily. In fact, for the longest time, he believed he would end up a Tar Heel.
“I thought it would be UNC,” Montgomery said.
And he wasn’t certain that it would not be Tuesday night, when he scored “12 or 14” points and grabbed “a lot of rebounds” in Greenwood’s basketball victory over Wren High. During timeouts and stoppages of play, his mind kept drifting. North Carolina or LSU?
He and his mother talked again later that night. By the time they went to bed, she felt that she knew it would be LSU.
“I was thinking that way back when we visited LSU,” she said. “We were talking to coach (Les) Miles, and just the way his eyes narrowed when he talked about what he wanted to do. He didn’t just want to win; he wanted to dominate.”
Another aspect also factored in. When Montgomery played in the Under Armour All-American game, he became friends with highly rated recruits Russell Shepard, who had already committed to LSU, and running back Trent Richardson, who planned to choose between LSU and Alabama.
Shepard was pushing Montgomery to come to Baton Rouge. Montgomery wanted Richardson to come as well. The phone calls and text messages flew back and forth.
There was even some thought that if Richardson announced early for Alabama, Montgomery, who is 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, would switch back to UNC.
While Montgomery waited for a message from Richardson, though, his time on ESPN arrived.
“I’m going to go ahead and lock it down and keep that No.1 (recruiting) class going at LSU,” he said on the air.
Later, Montgomery, his mother and support group crowded into an ESPN conference room to talk about the decision. Montgomery sat at the head of the polished oval of the conference table in a baseball cap and purple jacket, talking and texting.
And in the final analysis, it came down to the chance of winning a national championship.
“I want to be in the (title) races, in the SEC for the competition,” he said. “That’s the best league going.”
Montgomery had also made up his mind to play out of state, which eliminated South Carolina and Clemson. Michigan and Oregon were also recently trimmed from the list.
The toughest thing about the whole process, he said, was telling the coaches at the schools he eliminated no. So he didn’t; his mother Debra did. And North Carolina and Tennessee found out today by watching ESPN. Just like everyone else.
With the decision made, Montgomery, quiet and matter-of-fact in manner, sat at the end of the table, texting.
Still trying to get Richardson.
“I’m going to keep it up until I get him and harass him into coming to LSU,” he said.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
By STAN OLSON