It’s Nick Montana’s time at Tulane

Nick Montana knows how to pick his spots.

The Tulane quarterback, son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Montana and vagabond collegian, is adept at properly reacting to his surroundings. Whether it’s avoiding a pass rush or knowing how to approach a peer, Green Wave teammates and coaches have come away impressed with Montana’s ability to adapt on the fly.

“He’s just a good kid,” Tulane offensive coordinator Eric Price said. “He’s humble, he’s down to earth and he understands what it means to be a quarterback. In short, it’s made it easy on everyone here to work through this change, because he’s so easy to work with.”

Montana is experienced in transition. The former four-star recruit signed with Washington out of high school and spent two seasons there before transferring to Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif., for a year. Then he joined Tulane in the winter.

Attending his third school in four years left Montana in an uneasy position during spring practice. While competing with sophomore Devin Powell for the starting job, Montana was careful not to ruffle receivers and admitted he preferred to stay quiet, rather than publicly point out teammates’ mistakes.

Although his last name immediately earned respect in the locker room, Montana was careful to never take advantage of the lofty status.

Joe Kemp — Montana’s roommate, a Tulane graduate assistant and former Green Wave quarterback — called Montana one of the most “accessible” players he’s been around and noted his eagerness to familiarize himself with everyone before trying to command a leadership post.

“He kind of understands that aura he has but makes it a point to not let that get in the way of people being intimidated by him or anything,” Kemp said. “He wants to be approached by everybody and talk to everybody, no matter what his family background is.

“He has a relationship with his dad just like almost everyone else does, and he loves him and gives him credit as a great role model and teacher. But he thinks of Joe Montana the way we all think of our dads: just a Little League coach and a mentor.”

Still, it takes time to develop that relationship with teammates, and Montana was careful to wait before taking any leadership reins with the Green Wave. But at a program that compiled a 13-48 record over the past five seasons, teammates were eager to hear from him.

So over the past month, Montana’s status has changed. He has taken a commanding presence in the huddle, junior receiver Mark Edwards said.

“You have to gain people’s trust before you can say certain things,” Montana said. “In the spring, I was just trying to learn names. By now, though, I feel like I’ve been here for three years. I have a relationship with the guys, and we bounce things off of each other all of the time, and it feels more comfortable.”

That has transferred to the practice field as well. Through the early weeks of fall camp, Montana’s knowledge of the playbook and his teammates has vastly grown, according to Price.

While he admittedly isn’t yet able to grasp the system in the way recently graduated four-year starter Ryan Griffin did, Montana said he can already feel the playbook expanding with each practice. No longer is Price shy about throwing multiple plays in Montana’s ear, relying on the quarterback to properly set up protections and decide how the play should develop.

“The way this offense is set up, there really isn’t a bad play because there’s always a way for the quarterback to decide at the line of scrimmage which tweak will beat the defense,” Kemp said.

“When you realize what kind of worker (Montana) is and how he conducts himself, this is going to work to his advantage with every snap he takes.”

Still, when he steps onto the Mercedes-Benz Superdome turf Aug. 29 for Tulane’s season opener against Jackson State, most Green Wave fans will still be matching their expectations to the name on the back of his jersey.

It’s a burden Montana said he carries without concentrating on it. After all, it’s out of his control. He’s simply trying to pick his spots.

“He wants to shy away from the hype, and I really think his transition has been outstanding,” Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said.

“He’s still trying to feel his way around here, and I just really like his place on this team.”