Defensive end Montgomery wired differently
Picture yourself as an offensive tackle.
You break the huddle, jog over to your side of the line, wedging cleats into the turf and stretching out your taped up fingers for the clash to come.
You know the man across the line by reputation. You recognize the No. 99. You’ve seen what he can do in film all week. He’s Sam Montgomery, one of the best defensive ends in the nation.
You think to yourself, “Look at this guy.” He’s flexing, his muscles are bulging out from under that white jersey. You force yourself to concentrate. You have to hear the quarterback’s cadence and listen in case there’s an audible.
But there’s another sound. It’s coming from across the line, from Montgomery. That’s nothing unusual. It’s football, and you’ve heard it all. None of it nice.
But this is different. Montgomery isn’t talking to you. He’s talking to … himself. About … Sonic. Sonic the Hedgehog? The video game? He’s talking about making a Sonic sack. What the …
The ball is snapped. You pivot your body left, and Montgomery is into you quick. No words now, just the strength and agility pent up in his 6-foot-5, 260-pound frame. You’ve got size and technique, but he’s got, well, it’s hard to say. An extra gear. A ball of energy.
He slips past you and nails your quarterback for a 7-yard loss. Now you know what a Sonic sack is. You’re a witness. You watch as Montgomery jumps into the air, throwing his arms back and slamming his legs into the turf.
Then there’s something else. He goes into a pose. What’s that … is that … Street Fighter? Is he dancing and posing like a character from that “Street Fighter” game you’ve played? Who is this guy? What’s going on inside that helmet?
You’ve got to get locked in for the next down. Good luck.
To simply say Montgomery is a defensive end is to say the Golden Gate Bridge is simply a way to travel over a body of water.
He is a football player, yes. An excellent one. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. puts Montgomery in his top five for the 2013 NFL draft should he decide to turn pro. Whether he will or not is one of the few things Montgomery won’t express himself about.
But he is also Sonic Sam.
And who is that? As best as anyone can tell, it’s Montgomery’s shadow persona. The man within the man.
“For Sam, it’s a way to express himself in a different way,” said Josh Dworaczyk, who has experienced the Sonic Sam treatment first-hand in practice. “It’s almost like an art form, the way he goes out there and does things.
“Whether you want to look at him as he’s trying to imitate a character or as an alter ego-type thing he has worked up in his head, I think it definitely exists. It exists for a lot of guys, but for Sam it may be a little over the top.”
Montgomery’s persona is a complex mixture of ferocious talent, child-like exuberance and a deep, personal pain that propels him forward.
It was during his junior year of high school back in Greenwood, S.C., when John Darrell Adams died.
He was Montgomery’s older brother, and he was working as a bouncer at a club in Columbia, S.C. A customer who had been kicked out of the bar earlier in the night returned with a gun and murdered Adams.
John is a part of Montgomery, too. In everything he does, in the way he plays, he tries to keep a part of his brother alive.
“It’s an every day thing,” Montgomery explained. “My season, my accomplishments in school, everything is a tribute to him.”
Part of that tribute is in the little blue hedgehog that bounces across Montgomery’s TV screen and fills his apartment with Sonic memorabilia. Sonic was John’s favorite video game character.
“All the things I think about, he taught me,” Montgomery said. “He implanted those things in me. So what you get is really his image.”
Stand outside the LSU locker room at the north end of Tiger Stadium after Saturday night’s game against South Carolina — Montgomery’s home-state school — and you’ll see Montgomery there.
An object in motion tends to stay in motion, but Montgomery is never so still as in that hour or so after he emerges from the locker room, signing autographs, chatting with fans.
It is part of the symbiotic relationship he feels with the LSU faithful.
“One guy traveled from Ohio to see one game. One game,” Montgomery said, a note of wonder in his voice. “He didn’t get any autographs. We just talked for a long time.
“My family is far away, so sometimes I miss that love and attention. So sometimes I give it to people, and they give it back. It makes me feel closer to them. It makes me feel that I’m playing for the people.”
Montgomery’s former high school coach, Shell Dula, was hardly surprised.
“That sounds like Sam,” said Dula, who is now executive director of the South Carolina Athletic Coaches Association and will be coming to Baton Rouge to see Montgomery play here for the first time. “He’s a very open, warm person who cares about people.
“When he was in high school, we used to go to visit elementary schools, and the kids just gravitated to him with that infectious smile he has. He’s always welcomed that.”
In the game “Dragonball Z,” characters can consume something called a Senzu bean. A website called myfavoritegames.com describes them thusly:
“Senzu Beans will revive whoever eats one to full power nearly instantly.”
Somewhere inside Sam Montgomery there must be a Senzu bean the size of a volleyball.
“He likes to be all pumped up,” said Barkevious Mingo, in so many ways at the opposite end of the line from Montgomery. “He’ll use some of those (video game) characters in his play. He’ll do a little ‘Street Fighter’ in the game. It gets him pumped up.
“I’m more of a calm guy. I like to be relaxed when I go out and play.”
But Mingo recognizes his team needs a caffeine jolt from guys like Montgomery, the kind they used to get from now exiled cornerback Tyrann Mathieu.
“We feed off guys like that,” Mingo said. “Tyrann was a guy like that. A high-energy guy.
“There have been times in practice or in camp where everyone is just dragging around, and I’ll look at Sam and say, ‘Sam, we need you. Do something. Just do something.’ ’Cause you never know what he’ll do. He’ll just get crazy, and the team feeds off that.”
To a man, Montgomery’s teammates say they’ve never played with anyone like him. Not that they’re exactly sure how he’s wired, but they’re relieved he’s on their side.
The thought makes Montgomery happy.
“Let’s put it like this: I’m sure those guys will remember me forever,” he said. “I feel I’ll be remembered as more than 99, as Sam, Sonic, that spontaneous guy.”