Once he sets his sights on a goal, nothing stops Lion punter Greg Montgomery. As a junior at Red Bank Regional High in Little Silver, N.J., he was asked the question, "What will you be doing 10 years from now?" Montgomery responded that, by then, he would have gotten a college football scholarship, have become an All-America and be playing in the NFL. Sure enough, Montgomery earned a scholarship to Penn State. He transferred to Michigan State in 1984, made the football team and was named an All-America as a senior in 1987 before being drafted in the third round by the Oilers. The response to his teacher, written in his teenage scrawl, is framed and still hangs on the wall in his mother's kitchen.
What Montgomery didn't predict was just how good a punter he would become. Now in his seventh season—and his first in Detroit after signing with the Lions as a free agent in May—Montgomery ranks eighth on the NFL's alltime punting list with a 43.8-yard gross average. The past two seasons he has led the NFL in punting, and through Sunday he was fourth in the league. True to form, Montgomery has surpassed the goals he set for himself before the start of this season, most notably improving his hang time from a league-average 3.8 seconds a year ago to his current 4.5.
"I've always been an aggressive guy, I'm not Mr. Passive," says Montgomery, who went to the Pro Bowl last season. "To be in the middle of the pack in the NFL would be easy. I want to be on top."
Being the leader of the pack has always come naturally to Montgomery. He was a roughhousing defenseman in junior hockey, and in high school a hard-throwing righthanded pitcher. As a 135-pound freshman, he made the Red Bank frosh football team as a middle linebacker. But while lifting weights before his sophomore year, Montgomery ruptured three disks in his back, and doctors cautioned dim about playing contact sports again. He concentrated on punting and placekicking, spending countless hours with Pat Sempier, a Jersey kicking coach. Montgomery became one of the few punters ever to earn a scholarship to Penn State. His transfer to Michigan State was in part to allow him to follow in the footsteps of his father, Greg Sr., who had been a Spartan quarterback in the late '50s.
As for the edict that he avoid contact sports, Montgomery eventually disregarded it. He excelled in club hockey at Michigan State and still plays in an amateur league in Houston during the off-season. He also loves skydiving and downhill skiing when he's not on the golf course, where he plays to a five handicap.
Clearly, his life is not totally focused on football. "I make a mockery of the seriousness of football," says Montgomery, whose offbeat sense of humor can be seen at his home in Birmingham, where empty picture frames decorate the walls. "I don't think of myself as a football player. I just try to improve the field position for the guys who play the game."
And what will Montgomery be doing in another 10 years? "Something entrepreneurial," he replies, perhaps like running his construction company in Houston. "I take life to the limit in everything I do. It's never haphazard, always positive and full force. For me, it's not so much about making money as it is about having experiences.