NEW ORLEANS — Tulane needed a quarterback. Nick Montana wanted an opportunity to start.
The graduation of four-year starter Ryan Griffin and the return of just one scholarship quarterback created supply at Tulane for Montana’s demand. As the 6-foot-3, 200-pound prospect shopped around the country after one season in junior college, the Green Wave emerged as his best match.
Montana said the pieces “just fit together,” and the first look at the puzzle comes Wednesday, when the Green Wave opens spring practice with Montana under center.
“I felt like I took a more mature approach going back through the recruiting process for a second time, and I made a more educated decision,” Montana said. “Out of high school, I was just looking at the size of the stadium and stuff like that, so I had a lot better perspective this time around. I feel like I just have a better grip on it and made the choice that worked best for me.”
Montana, who transferred from Washington in 2011 and spent 2012 at junior college Mount San Antonio, is competing with redshirt freshman Devin Powell and walk-on Jordy Joseph to fill Tulane’s vacant quarterback position. While Montana’s credentials and pedigree (a four-star high school recruit, he is the son of Hall of Famer Joe Montana) lead to assumptions he’ll start, there are no guarantees for the fourth-year junior, coach Curtis Johnson said.
“There’s never been a promise of early playing time,” Johnson said. “The only promise that I ever give is that if guys don’t do the same things that they did on film, or that they should’ve done, I promise them that I’ll sit them on the bench by me.”
Even though Montana piled up 2,652 yards and 22 touchdowns with Mount San Antonio in Walnut, Calif., while Powell’s only start resulted in Tulane’s 39-0 loss to Ole Miss last season, Johnson insists the competition is going to happen on the practice field over the next three weeks as the Green Wave work to improve upon its 2-10 record in 2012.
It’s a hard-line stance Montana said he was aware of when he chose to attend Tulane in December, and is happy to earn a spot through performance rather than previously attained accolades.
“He’s been terrific as a team player and a character person in understanding his role and what we need from him,” offensive coordinator Eric Price said. “When he came here, he never made any demands or asked for any kind of special treatment. All he said is he wanted a place that would give him a legitimate shot to win the job because he only has two years left, and he didn’t come here to be a backup.
“I mean, he could have come in and said, ‘My last name in Montana; am I going to be the starter here?’ But he never did that. He has been very easy to deal with and has been fair to everyone.”
Beyond his attitude, there’s a reason Montana was sought after by Johnson and his staff. Although his two-year stint at Washington resulted in a redshirt year and a lost quarterback competition to current Huskies starter Keith Price, there was a bevy of positive results sandwiched around it.
As a high school player in Westlake Village, Calif., Montana compiled a 27-1 record as Oaks Christian’s starting quarterback. He then went 11-1 in his lone junior college season.
“When Nick’s name came up, the first thing we thought about was his winning record in high school and in junior college,” Price said. “His numbers were amazing, and CJ always liked the fact that he’s been in a lot of winning locker rooms and expects that to happen every week. At quarterback, you want a winner, and it was the biggest reason we pursued him so hard.”
Tulane’s offensive philosophy also meshed with Montana’s strengths, which include quick defensive recognition, a strong arm, nimble feet and precision passing. Price said the Green Wave’s pro-style offense helped it rise above 75 percent of Montana’s other suitors, since so much of the college game has turned toward the spread in recent years.
Over the next 15 practices, Green Wave fans are anxious to hear about whether Montana can not only replicate Griffin but possibly surpass him in order to propel the program to its first winning season since 2002. It’s a heavy task to be placed on the shoulders of someone who hasn’t taken a snap with his current team, but Montana said he’s anticipating the challenge, and that he came to Tulane with high expectations of his own.
For now, Tulane’s staff just wants to see if he can earn the job.
“We don’t need him to be the greatest quarterback of all time,” Price said. “We just want him to be accurate, learn the playbook and develop into a leader (that) can communicate with his teammates. We brought him here for a reason, and he came here for a reason. And this is just the first step of a long road to winning games.”
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