Lewis: Famous name or not, Nick Montana is a leader for Tulane

No, there has never been a time when Nick Montana wished his name were, say, Nick Wyoming.

But when you’re the son of arguably the greatest quarterback of all time and you’re playing that same position, sometimes it can be a burden.

Maybe that’s why, although there have been more than 200 father-son combinations to play in the NFL, there are none in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

At least Nick isn’t named Joe Jr.

“I don’t think my mom would have allowed that to happen,” Nicholas Alexander Montana said. “But my parents did a great job of preparing my brother and me for the kind of pressure we were going to face. So it’s not like we shied away form it.”

No, they didn’t. Both Nick and older brother Nate naturally gravitated toward being quarterbacks, in Nick’s case because he liked having the ball in his hand on every play. It wasn’t a smooth ride for either, though.

Nate started out at Notre Dame, his father’s alma mater, before transferring to Montana and ultimately West Virginia Wesleyan.

Nick, a four-star recruit out of Oaks Christian School near Los Angeles, began his college career at Washington where, after a redshirt year, he appeared in only six games in 2011 before transferring to Mt. San Antonio Junior College in Walnut, Calif. He led that team to an 11-1 record, passing for 2,652 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2012.

With several schools to choose from, Montana transferred to Tulane, chiefly because the Green Wave runs a pro-style offense and there was an opportunity to play immediately.

That has come to pass, and in the process the Wave had its first winning record and postseason berth in 11 years: Saturday night’s New Orleans Bowl in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. And if you have read or saw any of the national bowl rundowns, inevitably the first thing mentioned is that Tulane’s quarterback is Joe’s kid.

“People are going to make what they want to out of it,” Montana said. “It might not be fair to my teammates, but I don’t put much emphasis on that stuff, and I don’t think they do either.”

That is true.

“When we heard we were signing Joe Montana’s son, we were excited about getting someone with the bloodlines of such a storied athlete,” said senior center Zach Morgan, one of Montana’s closest friends on the team. “What we didn’t know was how funny and down-to-earth he is. And when people mention about his being Joe’s kid, he just deals with it. We were watching TV the other night, and one of Joe’s commercials came on. Nick just said, ‘Not again.’ ”

But Montana said he isn’t bothered when Tulane coach Curtis Johnson jokes that he wants to stay on Joe’s good side when it comes to handling Nick.

“That’s just C.J.,” Montana said. “He’s always making jokes about himself.”

But while Montana has been an outstanding teammate and leader, his play has not met the expectations that accompanied his signing.

Shaky protection early in the year resulted in a right shoulder injury that knocked Montana out of two games entirely and still has him and limited in practice. That has only served to aggravate Montana’s other limitations.

Montana’s 1,654 passing yards rank 10th in Conference USA. In the two games he replaced Montana — both victories — backup Devin Powell averaged more passing yards (194) than Montana did in his 10 starts.

“It’s been a tough year for Nick,” Johnson said. “He got hit so much early that we never got a good look at what he would have been like if he had been healthy. He’s going to be a lot better next year.”

And there certainly will be a next year at Tulane.

Although he holds on to the dream of playing in the NFL, Montana knows it would be foolhardy to declare for the draft this year.

“Everybody just wants to get that opportunity,” he said. “It would be a blessing if I did make it in the league. Realistically, I know I might not even get drafted. But you just have to make the most of it.”

Despite the personal frustration, Montana can take a large measure of satisfaction out of helping a program with few positive accomplishments for more than a decade make it to a bowl game.

“I don’t think I played up to my potential,” he said. “But I’m with a great bunch of guys who are fun to hang out with. We’re practicing and playing in December, too, which not every team gets to do. We’ve had a great team effort and, considering where we were last year, winning seven games has been fantastic.”