Sam Montgomery's Past Has Defined His Future
On every Saturday in Baton Rouge, after the lights of Tiger Stadium are turned off and the Cajun smells disappear from campus, junior defensive end Sam Montgomery can be found celebrating his most recent triumph with the youngest of fans, the ones that view the LSU Tigers as heroes.
"I take that time out of my personal life to give back to let the fans know that I am human, to let them know that I laugh, to let them know that I can go from such a serious moment out there on the field and go back to being peaceful, calm and humble," Montgomery said. "I want to show them the face under the 99 jersey."
One look at the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Montgomery, a first-team All-American who racked up nine sacks in his sophomore campaign, and the image of the Hulk, or Superman or the entire Avengers rolled into one comes to mind.
But he links himself to Sonic the Hedgehog - the small, blue Sega video game character that sports a Mohawk and uses his supersonic speed to fight chaos - as a way to carry the memory of his deceased older brother, John Darrell Adams, with him everywhere he goes.
Adams, who worked as a bouncer in Columbia, S.C., was murdered outside of a bar after a removed patron returned and shot Adams during Montgomery's junior year of high school.
"The name Sonic comes from my past," Montgomery said. "My brother, he used to play Sonic a lot. I took over the name Sonic to keep me humble."
The decision to take on his brother's favorite video game character came to Montgomery in his high school basketball game the day of Adams' funeral.
"From that moment on I knew that my name would have to be Sonic," Montgomery said. "I didn't score a point. Not a lick. I played every last minute. I probably missed 15 easy buckets. I didn't make a shot."
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Five games into his redshirt freshman year at LSU, Montgomery's 2010 season was cut short after an injury to his right knee. He was told that he might never play football again, but that only motivated Sonic Sam to return better than ever in 2011.
"I tore up my knee and wasn't supposed to play football again," Montgomery said. "But I worked my butt off to get back in and came out with a dominant season. If you really want something, you are going to get it."
Throughout his development, Montgomery has tried to embody Sonic's characteristics in all walks of life and on the gridiron.
"I represent Sonic by doing the right thing on and off the field," Montgomery said. "I also represent him by always saving the day. I have had a hard life, but I don't make any excuses for it. I just want people to learn from me. When you get into these negative situations, you can smile about it and stay focused."
Montgomery understands that he has the ability to reach and motivate people, and views his recovery process as powerful tool.
"I want my life to be an example so that they don't have to go through what I went through," Montgomery said. "If I had to say one thing to the fans I would say that you can come from something small and turn it into something big with hard work. I am an example of it."
Montgomery was a consensus four-star recruit coming out Greenwood, S.C. His decision to attend LSU came with the burden of proving that he was ready to join the ranks of the numerous talented Tiger defensive linemen that have come before him.
"Coming from South Carolina, to coming out here, earning my teammates' respect and the people's respect shows that you can come from something so small and turn into something so big if you believe," Montgomery said. "That is the message I want to give out to everybody. And you can still be humble while doing it."
With every highlight reel sack comes increased attention surrounding Montgomery's play on the field. However, Montgomery is determined to use the exposure he receives for noble purposes.
"The one thing I have to say about being humble is never think of yourself as a big historical figure," Montgomery said. "I decided to sign autographs at every chance I get. Some people sign and act like they don't like that. I interact with people to show my humility. I'm not a big-time guy. I'm just a regular guy that plays football."
The truth is that Montgomery may be a regular guy off of the football field, but he is far from ordinary on it. Entering the 2012 season, despite only playing in 19 games during his career, he has racked up 67 tackles, 11 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss.
The fierce defender was a key element in guiding the Tigers to the 2011 SEC Championship and the BCS National Championship Game.
He is on the watch list for the 2012 Lott Trophy, which recognizes achievement on and off the field. He was a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award as a sophomore, and will be a candidate for the national defensive end award again in 2012.
"My personal goal is to get my teammates to the National Championship," Montgomery said. "If I could do that and sacrifice all my sacks, then I would do it."
The Tigers have their eyes set on another championship season. Montgomery believes the country should prepare for a show.
"Last year I believed that a lot of us were so young and didn't know what was going on," Montgomery said. "Now that we are experienced, that is just dangerous. I think we are going to move faster and hit harder."
Montgomery again channels Sonic for a simple method of staying focused on the team's ultimate goals.
"Sonic stays focused by getting rings," Montgomery said. "He follows a trail. Therefore, I must follow this trail to get this (championship) ring."
No matter what obstacles Sonic Sam endures, expect to find him sharing his experiences with the Tiger faithful whenever he gets the chance.
"The reason why I decided to be this guy is because when I was young, around eight years old, I was that little boy nobody ever talked to," Montgomery said. "You would be surprised how much of an impact that could have. Those are the small things. When a kid is going through a rough time and people just nod him off, walk away and be rude, that could be the difference in a critical moment in one's life."
Adams' memory will always remain with Montgomery and has shaped him into the person that he is becoming today. Taking care of his fans and spending time with the kids helps Montgomery remain a child at heart.
No matter how the season unfolds, Sonic Sam will continue to be there to share his successes with the people that need him the most.