Nate Montana doesn’t mind playing in father’s shadows at ND

Published 2:10 am Tuesday, August 17, 2010

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The questions about his famous dad don’t come nearly as often these days for Nate Montana as he tries to carve out his own path of success at Notre Dame.

“It’s old stuff now,” Montana said after a recent steamy practice on the same campus where his father, Joe Montana, helped Notre Dame win a national title in 1977.

Joe, of course, was a third-round draft pick who went on to become a Hall of Famer, leading the 49ers to four Super Bowl wins. Nate came to South Bend two years ago as a preferred walk-on.

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He wears his dad’s No. 16 from his days in San Francisco – Joe wore No. 3 at Notre Dame and later No. 19 with the Kansas City Chiefs. And father and son talk daily.

“He just said, ‘Study, study, study.’ That’s it,” Nate Montana said. “Like, learn your plays and make sure you’re ready to go if they need you.”

That’s the question for the younger Montana this season as he battles to be the backup to Dayne Crist. There are three promising freshmen also in the mix, with early enrollee Tommy Rees ahead of Andrew Hendrix and Luke Massa.

Montana, who at 6-foot-4 is two inches taller than dad, didn’t participate in football until he was a freshman in high school. As a senior, he attempted only 19 passes. And after coming in as a walk-on at in 2008, he spent last season at Pasadena Community College, where he was a backup, before returning to South Bend.

In new coach Brian Kelly’s no-huddle spread offense, Montana had a strong spring game, completing 18 of 30 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns.

“Nate does some things really well, and then I’ll lose him for a couple of plays,” Kelly said. “He hasn’t played a lot of college football, obviously, and consistency is the one area that he has to show.”

That’s exactly the point his dad has tried to make with his oldest son. Younger brother Nick is a freshman quarterback at Washington, and Nate’s two sisters, Alexandra and Elizabeth, are Notre Dame graduates.

“It’s great for him,” Joe Montana said in a phone interview, adding that he and wife Jennifer were initially “surprised he chose Notre Dame because of the extra pressure that would be there.”

But now Joe is a proud pop — his son says he is “really excited” — who has emphasized the qualities that made him so great over his NFL career.

“The fundamentals are an important part. It’s what guides you through the tough times,” Joe Montana said. “If your fundamentals are sound, it will carry you.”

Nate is trying to find the rhythm he had last spring in Kelly’s hurry-up system, knowing that if he does win the backup job, he’s one play away, one injury away, from being the quarterback at Notre Dame.

“It’s getting used to the tempo and picking it back up basically from where we left off in the spring,” Nate Montana says. “I think I’m starting to calm down and getting back in the groove. I need some more time. Purdue (the season opener) is not tomorrow so we got a little time.”

Kelly’s offense also calls for the quarterback to be a ball carrier at times. That’s OK with Nate.

“I like to run. I mean it’s fun, but I’d like to throw touchdowns more. It’s a good place to do that, too,” he said.

And the pressure of being Joe Montana’s son doesn’t bother Nate.

“I don’t think about it too much, so I try not to let it bug me,” he said. “I just try to do what I came to do and that’s compete and play. So I don’t think about outside things too much.”

Joe Montana plans to watch both of his sons play or at least suit up this season. That could be a lot of travel from California to the Northwest or to familiar grounds in the Midwest.

“We’re trying to plan the first month of the season right now,” Joe Montana said. “We’ll probably have a lot of frequent flier miles.”