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Padecky: Montgomery's spirits high after strong start


No athlete performs in a vacuum. He is surrounded by coaches, teammates, parents, friends, expectations and, most of all, history. History is the tie that binds. Today always carries yesterday with it, and it should, for otherwise the past is a meaningless jumble of nothing, discarded like an empty soda can, and just as irrelevant. Dean Haskins wanted to make sure his Montgomery football team would never go there, that's why he plucked that 25-pound boulder from the Bennett Valley hills and painted it red.

"I wanted a symbol that would mean something to them," said Montgomery's coach.

Before every game this season, as the Vikings leave their locker room to the field, the players reach down and touch the rock, painted in school color red. That rock is a tactile representation of everything the previous coach, Jason Franci, had built at Montgomery. Those three NCS titles. Those nine NBL championships. Those eight 10-plus victory seasons.

But the program had fallen on hard times the past three seasons, only 10 victories total, not even a .500 season. Was Montgomery football in danger of becoming irrelevant? Was it disappearing? "At the first practice," Haskins said, "I asked them, 'How are you going to be remembered?'"

Step up, boys. You are in control of Montgomery football. What do you do with it?

"To us, football is not just something else you do," said linebacker-fullback Henry Stelzner.

You know, like going to Whole Foods to buy a bean burrito.

So dedicated are Haskins, his staff and his team that Montgomery has become the buzz of Sonoma County after only three games of the season. Montgomery is 3-0, having equaled already its victory total in each of the last two years. And the Vikings didn't scramble either to eke out any of those victories. The scores of 54-7, 50-18 and 40-0 are dramatic proof of that.

It has been a while since there has been so much curiosity about an Empire team so early in the season. How good are the Vikings? How far have they come?

"We're going to find out Friday night," Haskins said.

Montgomery will travel to Petaluma to play Casa Grande, an established program that offers quite possibly the best team in the Empire. The Gauchos are 3-0 like the Vikings. They possess a NCAA D1 talent at quarterback, JaJuan Lawson, and enough skills to average 31 points a game while giving up just 13. That Casa Grande started like this does not surprise anyone. That this NBL matchup evokes such curiosity is a surprise.

Don't let anyone tell you they saw this coming. That said, this game won't be ignored. Can't be.

"What this feels like," Stelzner said, "well, it doesn't quite feel like revenge after the last couple of years. But it does feel good to be on the other side (of the final score)," Stelzner said.

Averaging nearly 48 points a game, no matter who does it, players can feel a sense of comfort, a type of confidence that can kill momentum.

"We're trying not to let those games go to our head," said Justin Perry, middle linebacker and right tackle.

Haskins and his staff are realists. Montgomery didn't beat any 2013 NCS champions in those three games. The combined record of those three opponents is 3-9, with Pinole Valley winless. The players' enthusiasm, while welcomed and encouraged, is tempered by the facts.

"Casa will probably be the toughest game we'll have all year," Perry said.

"They have size on us," said tight end-linebacker Colton Silvers, "but we have speed on them. Lawson is very shifty. He is able to stop and change directions very well."

"Yeah," added Perry, "he can make you miss."

Perry didn't make that last comment with trepidation in his voice. Fear and timidness, which always seems to follow teams that lose more than they win, was not contained in his voice. However deep that feeling Perry has, however much that strength of belief is shared by his teammates, that will be tested by Casa Grande and observed closely by Montgomery coaches.

A player can't control the final score. He can control, however, how hard he plays.

"Montgomery always has had the tradition of playing hard," Haskins said. "Montgomery players don't take plays off."

Haskins was very upfront with his team on the first day of practice. Slackers will not be tolerated. Neither will excuses. Franci didn't condone it and neither will Haskins.

"I stood up before that first practice," Haskins said, "and apologized to the seniors for being blunt — 'But this is on you, on your leadership, on you setting the good example.' "

The buck stops here. Now. Enough already. It's been four years since Montgomery's last winning season. It's been three years of wondering, wishing, hoping, all those words of hesitation and doubt. So Haskins put it square in the lap of his seniors. Lead. That's what seniors are supposed to do.

"We don't want to look back 20 years from now," Perry said, "and wish we would have done something different. We don't want to have regrets later in life."

So the chant they've developed, the one sprinkled liberally before, during and after practice, is their rallying cry. It's one that will be heard in the stands tonight.

"Why not us?" the players yell in unison.

A month ago that chant would have sounded hollow, without foundation. Now? Three blowout victories later? It feels like a Viking is behind it, a sound loud and purposeful. It attracts attention, just like the team that's bellowing it.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.