- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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Joe Montana has never liked moving, but he's packing up his belongings this week and leaving Thousand Oaks, Calif., the affluent suburb 40 miles north of Los Angeles he and his family have called home for the past two years, and moving back to San Francisco.
During the summer of 2008, the Montana family moved from their $49 million Tuscan-style villa in Napa, Calif., to Southern California so Montana's son, Nick, could go to high school powerhouse Oaks Christian and develop under the family's private quarterbacks coach, Steve Clarkson -- who recently made headlines when his 13-year-old pupil, David Sills, was offered a scholarship at USC.
The sacrifice seems to have paid off as Montana will be dropping off Nick, who graduated high school early, in Seattle, where he will begin spring practice at Washington. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound quarterback had offers from Notre Dame, Ohio State, Stanford, LSU, Alabama and Georgia before choosing Washington.
"It was a great experience and a great opportunity to get Nicholas an advantage heading into college," Montana said. "I wanted him to get as many scholarship offers and opportunities as he could, and it wouldn't have happened for him up north at all."
Montana's oldest son, Nate, graduated from De La Salle High (Concord, Calif.) and was a walk-on at Notre Dame before transferring to Pasadena City College last fall to try to get some game experience. He will resume his Notre Dame career this week when spring practice begins under new coach Brian Kelly.
Nate Montana, who was a third-string quarterback at De La Salle and was 12-of-19 for 166 yards and one touchdown in limited action his senior year, was among a four-quarterback rotation at Pasadena City. He completed just 31-of-88 passes last year for 324 yards, with two touchdowns and five interceptions.
"I think he gained a little bit of experience but not as much as he would like," Montana said. "The toughest thing he gained was the mental part of it, having the mental toughness and learning something new and going through some fights and not understanding why things happen the way they happen. He learned some good, valuable lessons."
Montana said he never pressured Nate, 20, to go to Notre Dame, his alma mater and the school his older daughters (Alexandra, 24, and Elizabeth, 23) graduated from, but he is happy to see him go back and finish what he started.
"He has a window of time when he can go out and try to get a position on the team, which he didn't have last year at all," Montana said. "It's good for him with Jimmy [Clausen] leaving and Dayne [Crist] not being 100 percent, and the only other scholarship player is the freshman that came in early from Illinois [Tommy Rees]. He's going to get a lot of reps and get a lot of time."
Crist, who is the projected starter, had knee surgery in November and is expect to be limited in the spring, while Rees will be learning the offense for the first time as a freshman.
Although Nate's numbers aren't impressive, he is quick to point out that he only began playing quarterback full-time his senior year in high school after focusing on basketball. He flew to Los Angeles almost every weekend while the family still lived in Northern California to work with Clarkson, which was another reason Montana moved his family south before Nick's junior season. With Nate back in South Bend, Ind., he says he must now rely on phone conversations to get coaching from his dad.
"I call my dad all the time and talk to him about how I threw that day in practice and how it went," Nate said. "I talked to him about what I felt I did wrong and he tried to help me, but it's hard with him being so far away. He tried to give me tips on what I could do better and improve on. It's hard not having him there to see me, though."
Montana has no delusions when talking about the prospects of his sons' playing this season, but he believes both could be solid second-string quarterbacks if they play well in the spring, and he plans to attend both Washington and Notre Dame's spring games to see how they play.
"Nick is in a good position, as well," Montana said. "There are not a lot of guys behind [Washington QB] Jake [Locker] because his backup left earlier in the year, so it's just Nick and another freshman. They have a great staff and they'll give him an opportunity. It's going to take time because it's a different game, but he'll be fine up there."
That Montana's boys are even playing football is slightly a surprise to him. He never wanted to push them to play the position he redefined, fearing the burden on them would be too much, while his wife Jennifer never wanted to see them put on a helmet, fearing the hits they took would be too much for her to handle after dealing with the injuries Montana endured toward the end of his career.
"She still struggles with it," Montana said. "She's seen what I've been through and she keeps telling them, 'Do you guys really want to walk like your dad?'"
Last season, Nick completed 133-of-241 passes for 2,404 yards and 33 touchdowns with 7 interceptions at Oaks Christian (Westlake Village, Calif.). He plays the most like his father, but he never wanted to play quarterback while he was growing up.
"At first, I started playing because I wanted to hit people, so I started playing linebacker and I loved it," Nick said. "Then my parents got me to switch over and I started playing quarterback in the seventh grade. My parents didn't want me and my brother to play contact sports, and it took about a year of badgering them before they let us. My mom didn't want us to play football, but we were just relentless and it was only a matter of time before they let us."
One of the highlights of watching his son play on Friday nights at Oaks Christian the past two seasons was often sitting in a celebrity-filled parents section. NHL great Wayne Gretzky's son, Trevor, was Nick's backup quarterback, and actor Will Smith's son, Trey, was one of Nick's wide receivers.
"I've known both of them for a number of years," said Montana of watching games with Gretzky and Smith. "It was a little harder on Will than it was on Wayne and I. We were always happy when Will came because we could move around and no one was looking at us. If he wasn't there, the attention would be on us a lot, but it was great. Will's son Trey is going to be a good little player and Trevor is going to be good too."
When Montana watches his sons play now, he regrets not showing them a few things earlier but says he wanted to guard against the perception he was raising his sons to be quarterbacks like him. If they chose to play the position naturally, so be it, but he wasn't going to put a football in their cribs. Since they have both chosen to play quarterback, however, Montana has felt a football rebirth. He still smiles and licks his fingers before darting passes to his sons in practice and catches his breath watching them step under center as if he were still playing.
"It's harder to watch them play than playing," Montana said. "The hardest part is I know exactly what they are going through and I want to try and help as much as I can, because I know the ups and downs of the position. I know when Nick or Nate do something wrong, I know exactly what they're feeling. Quarterbacks always know the feeling of that low, and there's nothing like it. Anything you can do other than throw an interception or fumble is good, but anytime you make a mistake it's always so prevalent. They'll blame the quarterback right away, which is OK, but they have to learn how to get past that because they're going to make mistakes like everybody else. Theirs is just a little bit more on a pedestal."
As Montana prepares to move back to San Francisco with Jennifer, their children now grown up and spread across the country, he smiles when he thinks about who he'll have to play catch with now that his kids are all gone.
"Jennifer can still wing it pretty good," he said. "Maybe I'll have to throw it around with her now."
2hEthan Sherwood Strauss