BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Sam Montgomery will hop around like a frog near the line of scrimmage if that’s what it takes to fire up LSU’s defense.
Once the center snaps the ball, the defensive end is as ferocious as he is goofy. He had 3 1/2 tackles for losses last weekend at Auburn, including a crucial safety in a 12-10 victory.
“If I come out cold, my defense will be cold. If I act like a normal football player, people notice that’s not Sam Montgomery. If I act crazy, they’re like, `OK, he’s his normal self,'” Montgomery explained this week as No. 3 LSU (4-0) prepared for Saturday night’s home game against Towson (2-1). “So it’s not only a responsibility for me to get mentally focused as an individual but also a team responsibility to bring some hype to the team.”
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Montgomery, an AP third-team All-American last season and a likely high NFL draft choice in 2013 if he chooses to turn pro, inspires teammates not just with the energy he brings but the sometimes odd or creative manner in which he expresses himself.
When asked what makes Montgomery unusual, fellow LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo began with a grin and the comment: “I could go on forever.”
“He’s a really interesting person. You see him on the field. You see him acting all crazy but like — he is crazy most of the time — but there are times when he can actually relax. He’s just a character. You never know what he’s going to do,” Mingo said. “I really think he’s in his own little world out there.”
During halftime at Auburn last Saturday night, when LSU, a three-touchdown favorite, trailed 10-9, Montgomery delivered a passionate halftime speech in which he told his teammates they had to accept the fact they had been “punched un the mouth” during the opening half, and had to respond. The defense never allowed Auburn even another sniff at points, and Montgomery wound up being selected the Southeastern Conference defensive player of the week.
Montgomery said his energy comes from a philosophy developed while growing up with modest means in Greenwood, S.C. He saw friends and acquaintances dropping out of school or getting into drugs, and felt let down when people he cared about made those decisions. He decided his commitment to the people he loved, including his teammates, would come first.
“I never played for myself,” Montgomery said. “I always played for Greenwood and along the way I met different types of people and I played for their dreams just to show them how much I care.”
The 6-foot-5, 260-pound Montgomery expects to play in the NFL someday, and he expects to succeed in part because he has dreams beyond football that would become more attainable with the cache that comes from thriving as a pro athlete.
“I might be the person to cause a movement,” Montgomery said. “First I have to earn my reputation through football, through networking, through interviews to show people that I’m smart, intellectual, that I actually care and I’m consistent about it. See, my overall dream is not to play in the NFL. It’s to help people.”
Montgomery routinely mentions his need “to stand for something great,” and he hopes his success at LSU has already inspired the poor, isolated and disenfranchised in Greenwood or elsewhere to think big.
“I’m going to get my degree and change my standard of living for the rest of my life,” Montgomery said. “It shows the lower class, don’t be scared to venture out.
“I want to be that voice for people and not be that standoffish athlete who’s no different from anybody else,” he added. “I want to be that great athlete that’s humble, that’s a voice for the people, so they’re not scared to take those big giant leaps in life.”
Montgomery has overcome adversity of his own even while at LSU, tearing knee ligaments in the middle of his redshirt freshman season (2010). He returned last season to help LSU win its first 13 games and an SEC crown before the Tigers fell to Alabama in the BCS national championship game.
Montgomery led LSU and ranked sixth in the SEC with nine sacks last season. He was second on the squad and eighth in the SEC with 13 1/2 tackles for losses. In four games this season, he has six tackles for losses, including two sacks.
Montgomery says every time he has a good stat line in a game it means teammates were also doing their jobs. Mingo said Montgomery deserves plenty of the credit.
“He works at it,” Mingo said. “He has all the tools — speed, he’s strong. He can bull rush and he’s got plenty of moves. His game is just wild.”
Montgomery does not start every game, and said he never minds coming off the bench as long as he can contribute.
“What people don’t understand is the 12th man is the most important man. In basketball, it’s the sixth man,” he said. “I’ve played both roles at a young age and it humbled me.”
Montgomery said he trusts his teammates to make plays when he is on the sideline, and that he conjures his game-day persona by thinking “about the guys in the locker room.”
“I think about their dreams and when I’ve seen them overcome adversity, and I take all that and I really just save it until the first snap, and that’s when I unleash it,” Montgomery said. “When you stop worrying about yourself and worry about other people around you, when you have true love for somebody, love is the most powerful emotion.”