From a name standpoint, the job of replacing Jake Locker as the next NFL-bound quarterback to make his way through the Washington program should only go to one guy.
There is quite a bit of clout when your last name is ”Montana” and your Hall of Fame dad, Joe, regularly shows up at practices.
”They’re just like any other parents coming to practice,” Washington freshman Nick Montana says of his parents.
The process of deciding who takes the reins from Locker isn’t as simple as handing them off to Montana, who came to Washington with perhaps the most prestigious bloodline in the program’s history.
Based simply on time spent in the Huskies’ system, Keith Price would be the leader in the race to replace Locker. Price has a year’s more experience than Montana and, more importantly, played well in his first college start last November at then-No. 1 Oregon.
The next Huskies starting quarterback likely won’t be picked until mid-August, but the rest of spring practice should give Washington coach Steve Sarkisian a strong indicator of who’ll be in the lead by then.
”The battle, in a sense, is a little overhyped, to me. We’re on a football team. The natural thing is that we want to pit Keith and Nick against one another, but the reality is that they are not against each other, they are together, and they are doing this together to make us a better football team,” Sarkisian said. ”That’s the goal. They are going to be part of an offense and part of a team where they have a role in place, and their job is to go out and execute that role.”
Whoever ends up winning the job by the time the Huskies host defending Football Championship Subdivision champion Eastern Washington on Sept. 3 will be trying to escape the massive shadow left by Locker.
Locker’s legacy wasn’t so much written by his success on the field, but by his longevity as a four-year starter and a polarizing career where fans couldn’t decide if Locker was great or failed to meet his lofty expectations.
Price and Montana don’t face the same pressure, even though there remains the unspoken expectation of trying to take Locker’s spot. Both say they’re trying to avoid the perceptions that come with their competition.
”It’s fun. It’s helped me prepare better,” Price said.
Montana has by far the more recognizable name, thanks to his father and his pedigree of playing for Oaks Christian, one of the top private high schools in Southern California. He was recruited by Sarkisian specifically for his experience as a drop-back passer in a pro-style offense at a premier high school.
Montana enrolled early, arriving on campus in spring 2010 with the idea of having an extra few months in the Huskies system and a better chance of winning the starting job for the fall of 2011.
”Last year, it was tough. … I’ve got a year under my belt to know the offense better, get my hot (reads) and just feeling a lot more comfortable,” Montana said. ”Now I feel completely different. I’m not thinking as much, just being able to play.”
Price’s arrival at Washington couldn’t have been more different.
Price was recruited by former coach Tyrone Willingham at a time when the Huskies used more of a spread-option offense that called for a quarterback to be a running and passing threat. Price remained at Washington even after Willingham left and Sarkisian arrived with a different offensive style, knowing he would have to display a different aspect of his game to catch Sarkisian’s eye.
Price did that during his redshirt year and against last year as a freshman, giving Sarkisian the confidence to go with Price at Oregon when Locker was struggling with broken ribs. Price’s numbers weren’t spectacular – he went 14 for 28 for 127 yards, no interceptions and a touchdown against the Ducks. He had already displayed poise and confidence earlier in the season when he was thrown into a goal-line situation at USC and threw a touchdown on his only snap.
Price understands he and Montana will be asked about replacing Locker until next season actually begins.
”Obviously, Jake’s not here, but I just try and go out and be me, myself and that’s the key thing,” Price said. ”Jake’s a great guy. He did a lot of great things for us in the past and I don’t blame the question. I would be asking the same question.”