Sam Montgomery said one thing is for sure: He won’t suffer another injury because of a cut block like the one that ended his 2010 season during LSU’s game against Tennessee in October.
The fifth game of the season was barely under way when Montgomery, a redshirt defensive end from Greenwood, S.C., slumped to the Tiger Stadium turf with pain in his right knee.
“I got hit and I started crawling on the ground,” Montgomery recalled after practice a few days ago. “When (the medical staff) came over, I tried to get up, and I tried to put pressure on it.
“I tried to lie to myself all the way to the locker room that there was nothing wrong, but I got up there, and they said it was tore up.”
Just like that, a promising season was over, and Montgomery had surgery to repair the injury and began the challenging rehabilitation process. The journey back to health was an educational one, Montgomery said.
“I learned how to play a cut block first and foremost,” he said. “So from now on, that won’t be a problem. I know one thing: I won’t be getting hurt that way anymore. It’ll have to be another way for me to get hurt.”
Montgomery said he learned about more than just self-preservation.
“I really took a lot from (the rehabilitation),” he said. “It taught me how to be a disciplined football player. It taught me how to overpower speed and use technique. It definitely makes you a much smarter player. During my injury, I learned a lot more about myself, mentally and physically as far as having the courage to come back out here.
“I had to have a lot of focus day by day and night by night. I had to work on the flexibility and the extension on it. It’s been a long process, but I came back, I worked hard, and I’m glad to be where I’m at.”
Montgomery, who’s back as the starting right end, said the most frustrating part of the injury was “having to leave my teammates,” especially seniors such as tackles Drake Nevis and Pep Levingston, linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, and cornerback Patrick Peterson.
“It was my last year playing with those seniors,” Montgomery said. “That hurt, but I had a lot of the older guys talking to me and motivating me, calling me on the phone every day and making sure I’m doing the right thing and going to rehab. Drake Nevis has been a big part of my recovery process.”
Coach Les Miles said he thinks Montgomery, like senior safety Brandon Thomas, who missed the last four games of last season because of a foot injury, “is really looking forward to playing this season because he missed one.”
“With young guys, the one thing they take for granted is their body,” Miles said. “You think you’re invincible and you won’t get hurt. You’ve always tested it, and it’s always showed that it’s up to that challenge. Then when you have an injury, it works on you emotionally, and it certainly did on Sam.
“Sam wanted to play and he was having a great season, and suddenly it’s over. It takes some time. He had to get his mind right academically because it was distracting to him. He turned the corner and started rehabbing, and he realized the path back was hard work, and he’s used to hard work.”
Montgomery, 6-foot-4, 245 pounds, said the knee is 100 percent, which was pretty evident when he participated in spring practice and earned the Alvin Roy Fourth Quarter Award for outstanding performance in offseason workouts.
“I’ve just got to get a little bit of my stamina back,” Montgomery said. “But skill- and technique-wise, I feel back and better than ever.”
Montgomery, whose 18 tackles, six for loss, and two sacks in essentially four games were good enough to earn him all-freshman honors from the Southeastern Conference coaches, said he believes he can grow into a leadership role on the line, helping to replace what Nevis had provided.
“It’s a big responsibility and large shoes to fill,” he said. “Between now and the end of camp there’s a lot of growing up to be done. There are a lot of plays to be made, on the field as well as off the field, in the classroom.
“When I got hurt last year, I felt like I was playing the game, but I wasn’t playing it to my maximum potential. This year, I’m not leaving any regrets.”