A Moment to Savor
Nov. 5, 2008
STANFORD, Calif. - Days from now, the fantasy will be over for Tom Montgomery.
He will remove his Stanford uniform and consider it a privilege to have worn it.
He will be done with competitive soccer, having gone further in the sport than he would have considered possible.
And he will have left a legacy of persistence, perseverance and purpose for those who witnessed his resolve in excelling for a team he wasn't supposed to make in the first place.
Montgomery, who joined the team as a junior walk-on, will be among 10 seniors honored Sunday when Stanford plays its final home men's soccer match, against Oregon State, and will conclude the season a week later.
Montgomery will walk to the center circle with his father, Rob, a fitting companion for the pre-game ceremony. This, after all, will not be the apex of a singular vision. Rather, 'this was our dream,' Tom said.
Tom Montgomery came to Stanford blindly from a soccer perspective. He was the fourth generation of his family to arrive on campus, the son of a Stanford Dolly and an English major who envisioned himself as 'a cowboy who would write the next great American novel.'
Though Rob Montgomery never lived that dream, choosing a career in business, he has helped his son achieve his.
With help from his father's observations, Tom realized that although he small in stature, he could still control a match. His father made him aware that his effort was key. It was proven repeatedly when Tom would play his best games as the players got older and the competition got tougher.
'When I wanted to prove myself, that's when I worked the hardest,' Tom said. 'My dad ingrained in me that that's how I need to play all the time. When I was playing with fire, that's when I was at my best.'
Still, there was little Montgomery could do to distinguish himself on a grander scale. That was partly because Bakersfield was hardly a hotbed for soccer, and also because Montgomery never went out of his way to reach the highest age-group levels.
Montgomery took none of the conventional paths to big-time soccer. No Olympic Development Program teams, international trips or national-team invitations. While major-college recruits were playing for elite club sides, Montgomery may have only heard of those teams, but certainly never played against them.
'I'm probably the worst soccer parent to ever live,' Rob said. 'I did not do the things an ambitious soccer parent would do. I was pretty ignorant. He did not have the same type of exposure of quality competition that a lot of guys had. Who knows how good he could have been if I put him in the right place early.'
Despite his lack of exposure and high-level experience, Tom remained unwavering when his father asked where he wanted to end up.
'At Stanford, playing soccer,' Tom said.
Academically, that wasn't a big problem. On the soccer field, without an invitation, it was.
As a freshman, Montgomery watched from the stands. That winter, he enrolled in Stanford's advanced soccer class, the first step in the tryout process.
Still slightly-built, Montgomery caught the eye of coach Bret Simon, but not enough to warrant a second look. Struck by a lack of confidence, Montgomery never received word if he made the cut and never asked.
'He was full of energy and hustle, and did a few clever things with the ball, but we had a lot of returning midfielders,' Simon said. 'I don't think he was quite ready or a strong enough player to make an impact on our team. That's our criteria, you really have to be good enough to have an impact.'
The vision, once so strongly shared by the Montgomerys, was fading, and Tom seemed ready to let it die.
'Maybe I'll play lacrosse, or do something else,' Tom told his father.
'Well, you can do that,' Rob replied. 'But, why don't you give it one more chance.'
For the next few minutes, Rob broke down the situation and made a strong case that Tom belonged.
'This is the first time you've played with guys at this level,' his father said. 'Your athletic talent will take you further if you keep trying.'
With a renewed sense of purpose, Montgomery devoted himself to improve his skills and fitness, and did it without the benefit of teammates.
Though he watched another season go by, Montgomery did so with the belief that no more would pass by without him. He was right. Montgomery lasted through the next advanced soccer class and was invited to play on the spring team. After the final spring game, Montgomery got the word: He was on the team.
'He just kept coming back and kept getting better,' Simon said. 'I thought his place would be as a practice player, because he trained and competed so hard that he would make the people work so hard ahead of him.
'But he wouldn't go away. He just kept fighting.'
Montgomery proved he was more than that. After coming off the bench seven times as a junior, he started 12 games as a senior, scoring one goal, and proved worthy of a fifth-year of eligibility.
This season, Montgomery's started every match - at midfield and forward - and his three goals are tied with Bobby Warshaw for the team high. His driving shot into the upper corner against Cornell, off a chest pass from Warshaw, remains Stanford's most spectacular goal of the season.
Beyond goals, Montgomery's work rate sets the tone for his teammates. Suddenly, the player no one wanted has become perhaps the team's most indispensable.
'I feel like some guys see college soccer as one more step along the road to the pros,' Montgomery said. 'For me, this was the goal. This is the high ground.'
His one regret is that it's ending.
'I'm definitely playing the best soccer of my life,' Montgomery said. 'I feel like I've been getting better every season. I feel like I could play three more seasons and still get better.'
But he can't.
A walk with his father to the center circle. Some kind words, a wave, applause, and a game to play.
It won't be long. Soon, the Stanford jersey will come off for the last time.
A privilege indeed.
- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics Media Relations