Matt Nagy had to catch himself and stifle his laughter. He could not believe what David Montgomery, his new backfield weapon, had just said.
This was the summer, shortly after the Chicago Bears selected Montgomery in the third round of the NFL draft, and Nagy was on the phone with the former Iowa State star, who had just asked his new head coach what he had to do to make the team, even though he was a top-100 pick and had nothing to worry about.
“Yes … he said it,” Nagy told Yahoo Sports with a laugh, “and, yes, I did have to keep myself from laughing.”
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In a way, Nagy wasn’t surprised. Though Montgomery’s combination of size (5-feet-10, 222 pounds), collegiate production (1,216 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in 2018) and elusiveness (he led college football in broken tackles last season) already made him an alluring pick, Montgomery’s humility and workmanlike attitude was a primary reason the Bears and general manager Ryan Pace fell in love with him.
“His strength is he’s very humble and he has zero expectations,” Nagy said. “We didn’t have a first-round pick, we didn’t have a second-round pick … and when he was sitting there, to us, he was a first-round talent.”
And while third-year pro Tarik Cohen, a 5-foot-6, 181-pound blur who rushed 99 times for 444 yards and three touchdowns a year ago (while also catching 71 passes for 725 yards and five touchdowns) is expected to open the season as the Bears’ lead back, there’s little doubt about how hard Montgomery has worked to prepare himself for the opportunity for carries that Howard’s void creates.
“He wants the ball every play, every rep in the preseason,” Nagy said. “He wants special teams, whatever he can — he wants to do it all. Everything about his life is football.”
Montgomery, 22, certainly agrees with that notion.
“Football teaches you a lot about life; I know football makes me better as a man,” Montgomery told Yahoo Sports. “There’s responsibility, adversity, it’s like family. A lot of the open voids in my life, football was able to fill.”
Montgomery was also alluding to growing up in poverty in Cincinnati. His maturity stems his desire to be a good example for four of his siblings, which partly explains why he says he avoids drinking and smoking.
“I’m not against anybody who does it, it’s just never been my thing,” Montgomery said. “I just kind of kick it and stay up on things so I don’t mess things up.”
That type of laser focus on his future also explains why he started a nightly workout club for Iowa State’s team on the weekends during the offseason after his freshman year in 2016.
“We would go in the indoor [facility] at late night and do drills,” Montgomery said. “I started it but other guys started to come in ... I wasn’t asking guys to come but eventually guys would start to follow so it was cool. We were there for up to four or five hours, trying to get better.”
Montgomery takes pride in the fact that the Cyclones went 8-5 in the two years after he started the club following that freshman season, in which Iowa State went 3-9.
“It definitely raised the bar,” Montgomery said. “It’s really about the legacy I leave. I want my kids to see what their father was able to do.”
Montgomery, by the way, says he doesn’t have kids.
“Just trying to be prepared,” Montgomery said. “My biggest thing is to come out here, make my mark and let everyone know I am here.”
In that area, he’s already succeeded to a degree, as it appears his veteran teammates can’t help but respect Montgomery’s focus.
“He has a pro mindset already,” safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix told Yahoo Sports. “To be so young and watch him come out to work, to work each and every day, trying to get better, taking 5-yard routes, 5-yard gains, and still going finishing [through] the end zone shows a lot about his character.
“He wants to win, he wants to be a part of something special and I think he’s gonna do that … it just goes to show how much of a pro he’s gonna be when he gets a little older and a few years under his belt.”
Montgomery will take his first step toward making his mark in the NFL on Thursday night, when the Bears open up the NFL’s regular-season slate at home against the Green Bay Packers.
And given the rookie’s mentality — which is best exemplified by his sincere question this summer about what he needs to do to make the team, a moment that still makes Nagy chuckle — the Bears have no shortage of hope that Montgomery will live up to his potential, likely sooner than later.
“We’re pinching ourselves,” Nagy said. “We are.”
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