FORTVILLE — Coming from Memphis, Tennessee, Zac Montgomery didn’t know what to expect.
Spending the last 12 years below the Mason-Dixon Line where football is king, Montgomery bounced around from Texas to Mississippi before settling down in the Volunteer State.
The Midwest proved a mystery, however, despite his Hoosier roots. The Mt. Vernon junior quarterback has spent the past two-plus months reacquainting himself with his native state.
“It’s a little different being back up north. Football is definitely a culture down south, especially college football. They haven’t even heard of the NFL down there,” Montgomery joked. “Funny thing is, coming up here, I really thought basketball would be way above football. It’s not. They take football seriously here. I really like that.”
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The same can be said for the Marauders’ new spread offense, Montgomery admitted, which isn’t exactly by coincidence.
The son of Mt. Vernon offensive coordinator, Chad Montgomery, the duo joined head coach Doug Armstrong’s Marauders in June, and the timing couldn’t have been any better.
Armstrong incorporated the spread briefly last season and considered expanding on the set for the 2016 season, then he got an unexpected phone call.
“(Chad) said he was moving back here for his job,” Armstrong remarked. “And as it turned out, his son was looking for a new school. He’s been running the spread for a few years.”
Zac Montgomery was just a preschooler when his parents, Chad and Laura, moved out of state in 2004. His father’s career path led the family across the southeast, and as luck would have it, back full circle, quite literally.
Chad graduated from New Palestine High School in 1989 before embarking on an All-Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference football career at Anderson University under head coach Mike Manley. He was part of the Ravens only undefeated regular season in 1993 and helped the program win the HCAC championship.
Laura’s family lives in Anderson, so when Chad’s job as sales leader at Estes Design and Manufacturing in Indianapolis meant relocating to the territory full-time, the family chose Fortville.
The location was an ideal in between, Chad said, and a chance to rekindle a partnership that began in 2002 when Montgomery was a defensive coordinator for Armstrong during the first two years of his tenure as head coach at New Palestine.
“We thought this was a great way for us to reunite,” Chad Montgomery said. “When I looked at his team last year, I thought he had a great squad and had a lot of talent coming back. I also saw his quarterback got hurt, and he was a senior. I told him, ‘hey, I know a guy you might like.'”
Chad served as the offensive coordinator for his son’s high school team for a few years during his time at Harding Academy, a private Christian college-preparatory school in Memphis. The Prowlers, also known as the Lions, went 10-2 last season in the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s Division II Small Conference.
They advanced to the private school state tournament’s final four, losing to the eventual state champion in St. George’s Independent School of Colllierville, Tennessee.
Zac accounted for 1,701 passing yards and 24 touchdowns while rushing for 200 yards and five more touchdowns utilizing his father’s system in 2015.
“We sent Doug some film, and he asked if Zac could bring the playbook with him because we did a lot of spread stuff last year. I told him, ‘Actually, I know the guy who made that playbook,'” Chad Montgomery laughed.
An evolution over the years, Chad shifted his focus to the offensive side of the football by happenstance when Zac was 10. Coached by New Palestine’s Marvin Shelper, Chad worked as the legendary coach’s defensive coordinator after college and “earned the trust” of Armstrong when he took over the program.
Zac was originally a defensive end when he started playing tackle football at the age of 5 in Texas, but he pestered his father to teach him to be a quarterback after idolizing the NFL’s top passers such as Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.
“I took a bunch of stuff from other guys I had worked with, and I was fortunate enough to work with the offensive line when Zac was a sixth-grader,” Chad Montgomery said. “The high school coaches would come down to work with the middle school guys, and we had a guy that learned from Hugh Freeze (head coach at Mississippi). The next guy that came in was all Tony Franklin (Middle Tennessee offensive coordinator). We had about five new systems in four years, and I learned from all of them.”
The result is a playbook that consists of roughly 85 plays, each with easy-to-understand terminology. As expected, Zac knows them, and he’s been sharing his knowledge on the practice field.
“Being the quarterback, you have to understand the offense inside and out, and obviously, the defense as well,” he said. “There’s a responsibility there.”
In Zac’s first start this season, he passed for 328 yards and a pair of touchdowns as the team churned out 400 yards of offense in a narrow 34-27 loss. After last week’s 27-10 win against rival Greenfield-Central, the Marauders (1-2) have produced 655 yards and five touchdowns overall.
“There is a strong running game history here that plays off itself,” Chad Montgomery said. “We want 60 or 70 offensive plays in a game. We have a lot of good athletes in space, solid receivers and the tailbacks catch the ball really well. If we possess the ball at the right times and don’t give it to the other team, I think we could put 48 to 50 points on the board.”
The key is progression and minimizing mistakes, Armstrong emphasized. The talent is a given with junior running back Eric Jones, an upperclassmen-laden roster, and two-way senior starters Mitch McCarthy and Nathan Seifert.
“Having those guys back there helps out the running game,” Zac said. “They do a great job of setting up the pass. Transitioning from a wing-T to more of a spread is a big step, but we think we can do some big things with it.”
The goal is 450-yards a game, and Zac has the measureables to help the Marauders reach their projections.
A dual-threat quarterback, the 6-foot, 190-pound signal-caller has earned a No. 5 rating by NIKE Sparq for 2018 at his position. His 40-time is 4.67 seconds and his shuttle time put him in the top 10 at the Sparq and Rivals combine with a 4.01.
He’s thrown for Indiana and Purdue the past two summers and has picked up offers from Florida Atlantic, South Florida, Northern Colorado, Western Carolina, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Lincoln University, among others.
His aspiration is to play college football, but he’s in no rush to finalize that decision.
“I just figured out where I’m going to high school, again,” he responded tongue-in-cheek. “Whatever happens from there, happens. Right now, I’m not really focused on any individual stuff. I’m just trying to win for the team.”