His first day at West Virginia Wesleyan this summer, Nate Montana felt welcome, finally. With a clean slate, and a fresh opportunity.
Tucked away in Buckhannon (pop. 5,800), the small liberal arts institution is 115 miles north of Charleston. This is not South Bend, Ind., or Missoula, Mont., for that matter.
And the 22-year-old Montana, enrolled at his fourth college in five years, is not calling out signals in the shadow of Touchdown Jesus, where his father, Joe, directed the Fighting Irish to the national championship in 1977.
Montana has chosen the Division 2 Bobcats, under the direction of Jonas Jackson, a 33-year-old Boston native who played at Lincoln-Sudbury.
On Saturday, the 6-foot-4-inch, 215-pound Montana will be at the trigger against visiting Bentley, which made the 12-hour bus ride from Waltham, departing Thursday night.
“I have confidence in myself, and the coaching staff has confidence in me as a leader,’’ said Montana, who debuted with a 27-of-49, 255-yard, two-touchdown, two-interception effort in a 41-17 loss to host Millersville last week. “It makes a huge difference knowing that you have support behind you, and you’re not constantly looking over your shoulder.’’
It was Montana’s first start since last October for the University of Montana, when he was 7 for 10 for 138 yards and a touchdown in the Grizzlies’ 55-28 romp over Northern Colorado.
In his only season in Missoula, after two stops at Notre Dame (seeing action in three games) sandwiching one year at Pasadena City College, Montana backed up Jordan Johnson, finishing 26 of 42 for 274 yards in eight games of an 11-3 campaign.
But with one season of eligibility remaining, Montana was determined to start.
And he didn’t see that opportunity at Montana, a Championship Subdivision program that has been rocked by scandal (coach Robin Pflugrad and athletic director Jim O’Day were fired March 29 for their handling of sexual assault allegations involving the football program).
Montana looked east, to West Virginia Wesleyan, which was in need of a quarterback to run its prolific spread attack after the graduation of Adam Neugebauer, who paced Division 2 in touchdown passes (40) and passing yards (4,011) last season.
After numerous appeals, Montana received his release from the Grizzlies in May, and, according to Jackson, fit in immediately.
“I am sure that there are probably a lot of naysayers,’’ said Jackson, “but he is focused, determined. And his teammates love him.’’