November 12, 2008

Son of NFL legend leading team to victory

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There's one thing coach Bill Redell doesn't worry about: When his quarterback leaves practice, he doesn't go home to a crazed dad giving bad throwing tips.

No, when Nick Montana peels off his uniform and sits down to dinner, he's in decent company.

Nick Montana has lead Oaks Christian to a RivalsHigh 100 ranking.
"When he goes home and talks to his father, he's not talking over his games with some accountant," Redell said. "The guy has played the position before, you know."

Yeah, you could say that. Joe Montana, Nick's dad, played the position in the NFL about as well as anyone ever has. Nick's trying to set a similar standard at Oaks Christian (Westlake Village, Calif.), which is 9-0 and outscoring opponents by more than 40 points a game heading into its regular-season finale Friday against Nordhoff (Ojai) High.

Since transferring from California powerhouse De La Salle (Concord) High this summer, Montana has learned the Lions' system faster than Redell expected. For all its success, De La Salle typically plays conservative, relying on its running game.

Oaks Christian, not so much. The Lions have one of the best juniors in the state, running back Malcolm Jones, but they're not afraid to air it out. Montana has thrown for nearly 1,600 yards and 23 touchdowns while seldom playing past halftime.

The Lions, who are No. 93 in the RivalsHigh100 after starting the season unranked, have so thoroughly dominated opponents that their first-stringers usually morph into bench-warmers after the second quarter. In four games, Montana hasn't played past halftime. In the other five, he's played just a few third-quarter snaps.

That makes his recent play even more impressive. Redell has coached several blue-chip quarterbacks, including Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen. But none were thrown into the fire like Montana. Clausen, for one, spent four years in Oaks' system.

Montana had about two months to pick it up before the Lions' season opener, which they won, 35-7. Redell cited Montana's "coachability" and "leadership skills" as reasons for his immediate success.

Asked whether Montana was more a product of hard work than good genes, Redell hedged a bit.

"I think it's all of the above," Redell said. "Our coaching staff does a good job and [Montana's] a great worker. But, yeah, the background he has, the dad he has; he's got some natural ability."

That is partly why optimism is flowing around the Oaks Christian campus. Despite a few nicks and bruises, and Jones' shoulder injury - which will keep him out three to four weeks - the Lions are on a tear.

They've rolled past all Tri-Valley League competition, and their defense hasn't surrendered a touchdown in more than a month.

In fact, it's the defense − not Montana − that has been Redell's most pleasant surprise. He knew his team wouldn't allow many points, but 5.2 per game?

That's where defensive coordinator and 19-year NFL veteran Clay Matthews enters the picture.

"He's in total control of the defense," Redell said. "A lot of guys that played in the NFL aren't always good coaches because they can do things naturally but they can't teach them. Clay's an exception to that."

And when the Lions start postseason play next week, they'll get a boost from their freshman/sophomore team. A couple guys named Smith and Gretzky will join the varsity.

Like Montana, most people have heard of their dads, Will and Wayne. One acts. The other was a hockey player.

Sophomores Trey Smith and Trevor Gretzky, though, are a receiver and quarterback, respectively. And they're pretty good.

"I'm not thinking either of them will play a major role in the playoffs," Redell said, "but they'll be big for us next year."

That'll be Montana, Gretzky and Smith on one field.

So, no, Redell isn't worrying about bad influences at home. He's worrying about paparazzi.

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