QB Montgomery VanGorder carves his niche at Notre Dame
SOUTH BEND — He gets the “Uncle Rico” references, connects to the exaggerated first pumps that are occasionally flashed at him as he walks across campus.
It’s just not the side of Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder that Irish fourth-string quarterback Montgomery VanGorder can really relate to.
“He’s always been compassionate,” the younger VanGorder offered of his father, whose booming/intense/dictatorial caricature perhaps dominates reality for those on the outside looking in.
Not that Montgomery completely dismisses the notion that someone could look in the defensive coordinator’s eyes and see a glazed, “I’m a gonna eat your quarterback” glare that’s still with him from his days as a linebacker at Wayne State University.
The wild side of Brian VanGorder was always kind of more myth than substantiated for the five VanGorder children, four of them current or former college athletes, along with eighth-grader Malone. That is until recently.
The elder VanGorder used to weave stories of his days growing up in Michigan, playing hockey on a particular frozen pond and replenishing in a rather unusual way when he started to wear down.
“They’d just crack the ice open,” Montgomery related, “and he’d say all this algae would come out, and they’d get down there and drink it. That’s pretty gross.
“We never believed him until he actually brought us there. He showed us a few years ago, and he drank it. He’s always been pretty hard core, like he is, but he’s always been there for me.”
And now Montgomery is there for Brian VanGorder too, sweetening the Notre Dame experience and growing into a role he hopes to use in his own coaching career someday.
“That’s what I’ve wanted to do since I learned what football is,” Montgomery said of the coaching bug.
The junior from Buford, Ga., is not just the spring football numbers king — his stat line from the past two Blue-Gold Games combined 8-of-10 passing for 90 yards and a TD, four rushes for seven yards and another score.
He graduated from scout-team tackling fodder in practice to the guy signaling in plays to Malik Zaire and/or DeShone Kizer in actual games. And he’s been given a chance to replace Kizer as Justin Yoon’s holder on place-kicks.
“I told him he could yell at me if he wants,” Montgomery said of the diminutive sophomore, who captured freshman All-America honors in 2015. “I looked at it as this is where I can have an opportunity to get on the field and help the team win.”
Montgomery had his opportunities to go elsewhere and help his team win as a quarterback on the field. FCS schools Murray State and Eastern Kentucky each offered him a scholarship, and Central Florida was wooing him as a preferred walk-on when ND head coach Brian Kelly lured Montgomery’s father away from the New York Jets after ND’s 2013 Pinstripe Bowl appearance in New York.
“It was a no-brainer,” he said of coming to ND with Brian VanGorder.
He didn’t meet the rest of the freshmen football players in his class until he was at summer orientation, but felt at home right away.
“He’s well-respected, well-liked by everybody on our football team,” Kelly said.
He’s also bold enough to tease his dad occasionally during practice, but rarely do the two talk X’s and O’s on the field or off it.
“Now my mom, she’s the one,” Montgomery said of Paula VanGorder. “I’d get in the car, and she’d be like, ‘Why didn’t you do this?’ Why didn’t you throw here?’ Gosh, I don’t understand how I could be getting this from my mom, but she knows a lot more than a lot of people would probably think.
“My mom knows more about football than probably 95 percent of the American population. She’s great.”
Montgomery also has wanted to know more about football. That’s why he sat in meetings with Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan back when Brian VanGorder was that team’s defensive coordinator. In fact, the younger VanGorder tagged along with Brian going to work so much, his older siblings would make fun of him.
Has the intensity, from all the exposure to Brian, rubbed off? Will it rub off?
“I don’t know,” Montgomery said with a smile. “I think as a defensive coach, you have to bring that mentality to coaching. I’ve always wanted to be an offensive coach, so I think every coach has to have some kind of edge to them.
“If not, how are you going to get the most out of your guys? So we’ll see.”