WSU’s Jones, Montgomery heading back to Berkeley
PULLMAN – It was supposed to be homecoming week.
James Montgomery and Brandon Jones have looked forward to it for almost two years, Saturday’s visit to Berkeley. The California Bears. Memorial Stadium. Where the two once played before deciding to transfer to Washington State University in spring 2008.
This was supposed to be homecoming week, when all the boredom of a redshirt year, all the work with the scout teams, all the trash talk from old teammates, all the patience would be rewarded with a triumphant trip back to Strawberry Canyon.
But life, and football, have a way of taking the long way around.
For Jones, who left Cal feeling a little disrespected, the road still is open. He’ll start at cornerback for the Cougars (1-5) as they try to upset the Bears (4-2), a 35-point favorite.
But Montgomery, whose departure from Berkeley was much more amicable, has been forced onto a detour. A blow to his right calf during the win over Southern Methodist, so slight he doesn’t remember it, took care of that.
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Montgomery’s two years at Cal – he redshirted as a freshman – were, by his own admission, fine, but “it just wasn’t the place for me.
“I just didn’t get the feel I wanted to be there,” Montgomery said, explaining he felt a lot of pressure coming out of Sacramento’s Cordova High to attend Cal, from his mom’s heart problem, since fixed, when he was a high school senior, to people at his high school pushing the Bears.
But the Northwest beckoned even then.
“I wanted to come up here,” Montgomery said. “Berkeley’s an awkward place. … I didn’t like it at all. And when I took my trips in high school, the college towns felt way better. That’s how college should be.”
So even though he roomed with Cal coach Jeff Tedford’s son, even though he averaged 4.8 yards a carry as a redshirt freshman, and even though he entered the next spring practice atop the depth chart – current All-American Jahvid Best was slowed by a hip injury – he decided to transfer to Pullman.
“To leave here and to go to a place that was a better fit for him, and to make him happy, was OK with me,” Tedford said. “I just wanted to make sure he was happy.”
Another redshirt year was spent to pay the NCAA transfer penalty and then Montgomery was slowed this fall with a knee strain. But after two games he led WSU with 157 yards, averaging 5.1 yards a carry.
Then came Sept. 19 and WSU’s 30-27 overtime win over SMU.
Montgomery said his leg was bruised during the game, but “nothing major. It started as just one spot and then swelled the whole compartment. That’s when I knew something was wrong.”
Tossing and turning, he got up, sat on the couch, tried to get comfortable. He couldn’t. Nothing helped and, at 7 a.m., lying on the living-room floor, he tried to lift his foot.
“It felt like fire shooting through my ankle,” he said.
He headed to the emergency room.
After Dr. Ed Tingstad tested the pressure in his leg at the hospital, he told Montgomery he had to go put his scrubs on.
“I knew it was bad,” Montgomery said.
He was suffering acute compartment syndrome, where blood buildup in the muscle compartment can kill the muscle tissue.
The blow was near the top of the calf. The overnight buildup started to eat away at the muscle, spreading down the leg. It was caught before it went to the foot, which probably saved the lower part of his leg.
Montgomery said Tingstad removed a strip of tissue about the width and depth of a hot dog from above the ankle to just below the knee.
“If you feel the leg, you can feel the indentation where they took out the stuff,” Montgomery said.
“I just heard some of the details just in the last couple days,” Tedford said. “I had no idea it was as serious as it was. I feel bad for him. I hope he’s doing well.”
He is. A month after surgery, Montgomery has been cleared to begin workouts. He usually keeps his lower leg in a boot but takes it off to ride the stationary bike and rehabilitate the leg.
“I’ve still got a little range of motion like this,” he said, moving his hand up and down, “that’s coming back. That’s what we’re working on. My calf’s intact, so …”
Montgomery’s voice trailed off. Asked if he thought he was going to play again, he answered quickly.
“I’m going to rehab like I am,” he said. “It’s a little setback. I’m going to try to get it together and bring it back. I’m just working my butt off right now.”
But he won’t be playing Saturday in Berkeley. Though he said he didn’t circle the game or anything, he still admitted he had hoped to lead the Cougars to a win.
“You’re right about that,” he said, laughing.
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Brandon Jones wasn’t happy in Berkeley either.
The Seattle native – he played youth football with Coug Jeffrey Solomon and against Coug Myron Beck – arrived at Cal the same time Montgomery did.
He also redshirted as a freshman and played the next year, though sparingly.
The Bears, who started 5-0 but finished 7-6, struggled with some team unity questions, and that played a role in Jones’ decision.
“A little bit, that and kind of not really liking the area,” he said. “But more of me not liking the area. (The dissension) was part of it, but just a little part.”
“He had a little of a rocky time,” Tedford said of Jones’ stay in Berkeley. “I think he was in the process of growing and maturing as a person. I think (he) got disenchanted and it was a situation where he could get a little bit closer to home and fit in at a different place.”
And the 5-foot-9, 183-pound Jones has fit.
“He walked on and he worked extremely hard,” WSU co-defensive coordinator Jody Sears said. “The consistency of his effort and the consistency of his positive attitude has continued to progress since he got here.
“He earned himself a scholarship pretty much last winter. … I’ve been really, really pleased with his effort and his attitude.”
Jones will start his seventh consecutive game at left cornerback, facing a Cal offense that leads the Pac-10 in scoring (32.8 ppg). The junior has 25 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery.
“We know that Brandon has tremendous skill,” Tedford said. “He can run very well, he’s a great cover guy and we have a lot of respect for his playing abilities.”
Cal’s rushing attack is led by running backs Best (102.7 yards per game) and Shane Vereen (51.5), the passing game by quarterback Kevin Riley (204.2).
“Some people that are playing I know, like Kevin,” Jones said. “I still see some of the stuff I remember he used to do when I used to be out there. Other than that, that’s really the only person I know really well.”
But he knows the type of test Best can provide, especially considering Jones has worked hard on improving his open-field tackling skills, Sears said.
“Jahvid is good and he’s fast,” Jones said. “I do want to see him 1-on-1. Somebody’s got to win. If I lose, then I’ll come on top the next time.”
Unlike Montgomery, Jones has been pointing to this game. He wants to show what he can do.
“Yeah, I do,” he said. “I also want to show them they missed out.”
Saturday, he’ll have his chance. Montgomery won’t.