Montana's oldest son to walk on at Notre Dame as quarterback
PASADENA, Calif. -- Joe Montana can't help himself. Standing on the sidelines of Maranatha High, a Hail Mary pass away from the Rose Bowl, the Super Bowl legend is stretching his arms out and continuously licking his fingers before getting his hands on a football.
"I'm just getting ready," says Montana, wearing a navy Notre Dame T-shirt, gold shorts and sneakers. "You know, just in case."
Montana's watching his eldest son, Nate -- a senior at national power De La Salle (Concord, Calif.) who will be a preferred walk on with Notre Dame this fall -- throw at the Steve Clarkson Academy and is beginning to have flashbacks.
"I think my wife was hoping they'd pick something else," says Montana, whose younger son, Nicholas, 16, will be a junior quarterback at De La Salle next season. "She kept pointing at me and saying, 'Look at your dad. Do you really want to walk like that?'"
Montana has entrusted the football development of his sons to Clarkson, who has tutored the likes of Matt Leinart, Ben Roethlisberger, J.P. Losman and current Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen. Following in that line is Dayne Crist -- a highly-touted incoming freshman who will be ahead of Nate Montana on the depth chart when they arrive in South Bend. While Montana advises his sons on the finer points of quarterbacking, he handed his boys off to Clarkson after he and his wife, Jennifer, saw a television story on Clarkson and spoke with Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis about the private quarterback instructor.
"I still scratch my head. I mean this is Joe freaking Montana," says Clarkson. "He's got a bust in Canton, he's got MVP awards, played in the greatest games and he trusts me with his most cherished possessions, his kids."
While no one knows the position better than Montana, who won four Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers, he never wanted to pressure his two sons into playing football, almost to a fault as both didn't start playing until they got to high school, with Nate, 18, playing basketball first before shifting his attention to football.
"I actually wish I had done a couple things earlier with them," says Montana, who resides in Northern California's Contra Costa County. "But you get so much pressure from everybody saying, 'You're not going to push them into football are ya?'"
As a third string quarterback on the varsity for his senior season, Nate was 12-of-19 for 166 yards and one touchdown and ran 17 times for 33 yards in limited action. No scholarship offers came his way, but he worked out for several schools before committing to Notre Dame over USC and Stanford. Weis -- a family friend -- said Nate would have a chance to compete for a spot on the team and earn a scholarship in the future.
"In the end I told him, 'Look, don't go to school for me, don't go to school for mom, you got to do what you got to do and go to the school you'll be happiest at if football doesn't work out,'" Joe Montana says, "and he chose Notre Dame."
The decision wasn't surprising considering Nate's options, although it will make life slightly uncomfortable, at least early-on, for the son, who would rather not be known as "Joe Montana's kid."
"I try not to think about it as much as I can," says Nate of the inevitable comparisons. "It would have come up at other schools too so I'm not too worried about it."
Of course, that will be nearly impossible when football practices begin and Joe Montana, whose two daughters, Alexandra, 22, and Elizabeth, 21, attend Notre Dame, starts to roam the sidelines at games or toss the ball around with players during practice as he has done in the past.
"We didn't push any of them into Notre Dame," Montana says. "I basically said, 'I'd like for you just to visit Notre Dame. I don't want you to make a decision without going there because if you say, 'No, I don't want to go there without visiting the school, you don't know what you're missing.' It's just a different place. It's really hard to explain."
The Montana legacy at Notre Dame will likely end in two years as Nicholas isn't expected to follow his older brother to South Bend. "I don't think he's going to be coming [to Notre Dame]," Nate says. "We play games against each other and try to prove which one is better all the time but he can go wherever he wants."
"Well, he's quite a USC fan," says Clarkson with a smile. "How's that for a rivalry?"