Sep 3, 2016; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones running back David Montgomery (32) hurdles Northern Iowa Panthers defensive back Jamison Whiting (29) during the first half at Jack Trice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Lou Ayeni rubbed his eyes, then grabbed his phone.
It was 2 a.m.
David Montgomery needed some tech help.
“I can’t remember if it was a road game and we came back, we go home, whatever,” said Ayeni, Iowa State’s running backs coach. “And I have a call on my phone from him and I’m like, ‘(Jeez), what happened?’ And he goes, ‘Oh, I just forgot the password for the computer and I want to watch the film from the game,’ and I’m like, ‘(Jeez).’ But I’d rather have that than the alternative. I want a guy who’s really invested and wants to be the best he can be.”
Don’t sleep on Montgomery — or anyone else in a room brimming with talented runners, pass catchers, and blockers.
Much has changed since Ayeni joined the program in 2014. His former head coach, Matt Campbell, joined him in Ames a season ago — along with several other former cohorts from Toledo.
The best part about the changes?
“It’s more high-caliber talent,” said Ayeni, who is also the Cyclones’ associate head coach. “Our football team looks like a legitimate football team — and all across the board. When I first got here, there were guys at certain spots and I’m, ‘OK, ok, ok.’ But I like (that) the youth of our football team is a lot better and the attitude’s a lot better. And that’s nothing — Paul (Rhoads) was good to me, was always good to me, there’s nothing wrong with him, but I just remember back then, some of those older guys couldn’t wait to leave. They would sprint faster out of practice than they would in practice. And these guys, here, they’re like field rats, gym rats. They’re in the film room all night. They just are trying to find the way we can turn this place around, which is really encouraging and fun for as as coaches, because we’re the same way. We’re up here all night, too.”
Front and center in that good “rat” category stands Montgomery, who averaged 5.2 yards per carry as a true freshman.
During the offseason, he’d arrive at the Bergstrom Football Complex at 10 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday nights. He’d stay until 2-3 a.m., perfecting his craft, watching film, executing drills — all the things Campbell wants players to do when “no one else is watching.”
Still, Campbell and company took notice.
“The starting point for David for me is off the field because one of the things that’s been really unique about David is David is one of those guys that when you talk about having a program of sustained success, I’ve always believed your best players have to be your hardest workers,” Campbell said. “David embodies that in every way shape and form. He is relentless at his craft. We almost have to literally get him out of this facility at night because he wants to be here constantly.”
Good luck. Montgomery has late-night, hard-working company.
Former 1,000-yard rusher Mike Warren put on 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason. He said he ran the fastest 40-yard dash on the team this summer — but didn’t want to divulge the time. That’s OK. He’s bonded deeply with Montgomery, even though he displaced him as the No. 1 back.
“If he comes in and busts off an 80-yard run, you know it’s my turn to bust off an 80-yard run,” said Warren, a freshman All-American two seasons ago. “We always talk about things like that.”
Montgomery, a sophomore, looks up to Warren, a junior. It’s a unique friendship and helps unite a deep ISU backfield that also features dynamic freshman Johnnie Lang and steadily-improving sophomore Sheldon Croney.
“We’ve got a tight-knit room now,” Ayeni said. “We’ve got a tight-knit room and it’s really fun to be in that room right now. Those guys are — they really care about each other. It’s really fun to see. Usually, you know, you’ve got two guys competing for a spot at running back and, you know, it’s like that movie, ‘The Program.’ You think they’re butting heads all the time, but those guys are hanging out. Those guys are watching film together. Those guys are helping each other when they come on and off the field. It’s a lot different and it’s the best thing for our football team. … Those guys have brought the best out of each other because now the attitude in the room is at an all-time high, but the competition’s even higher than that in the room. Everybody’s raising their game because they know that carries are at a premium. You’ve got to be at your best every time you step out there.”
Montgomery, Ayeni said, is “the bell cow” of the group. Campbell said his pass catching skills are elite, too — as are his work (if not sleep) habits.
“I just want to win,” Montgoner said.
“I want to make the team better,” he added.
As for the 2 a.m. call? It’s not an outlier.
“When I realized what time it was, I was like, ‘Oh, sorry,’” Montgomery said. “But it was just something that had to be done. I just really push and strain myself to be better than I was the day before.”
That, in turn, fuels others engaged in the same pursuit of excellence.
“Whatever coach Campbell needs me to do, I’m really down to do,” Montgomery said. “Whether it’s me catching the ball — if he needs me to kick the ball, I’ll kick the ball. If he needs me to long snap, I’ll long snap. Anything for this team.”