What do you remember when you think about Sam Montgomery?
For many, it's his comments about taking snaps off or being released by the Texans after his draft stock plummeted. Maybe it was his role as one-half of the Mingo-Montgomery wrecking crew on the defensive line.
For me, it was his outsized personality. His Sonic Sam persona and gregarious nature were legendary traits that helped rally teammates around him on some of LSU's best defenses ever. He was a force of nature off the field, and that's not meant to sell him short on the gridiron.
He started as a redshirt freshman and was arguably LSU's best end prior to getting hurt against Tennessee. By then, he had already compiled two sacks and six tackles for a loss in five starts. The 2010 defense was never as sharp after he hobbled off the field, allowing 27.5 points per game against BCS conference foes after the improbable UT win. Even as a freshman, he was invaluable.
It shows in the win column. LSU was an insane 24-2 when Montgomery started a regular-season game and 28-4 when he took the field, period. There's a strong argument that LSU's best three-year defensive run in the modern era is 2010-12. It's no coincidence, if you ask me, that Montgomery was manning an end for 2.5 years of that run.
He also showed up in some big moments. His forced fumble in the third quarter against Oregon put LSU in great field position during a 3-point game and kickstarted not only a 24-7 knockout run, but established LSU's 2011 identity as the team that took close games and made them laughers via turnovers. At Auburn in 2012, Monty's 1st-quarter forced safety proved the difference in a lackluster 12-10 win.
Even as critics lamented his (self-admitted) inconsistent effort, Sonic Sam was still great. He recorded a sack in each of LSU's last five games in 2012 and forced a fumble in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl loss. He also recorded a pair of sacks against South Carolina, another against Alabama and earned a tackle for loss in all but two 2012 games. The message is clear: Even a mediocre Sam Montgomery was great.
The awards proved it. He was a First-Team All-American for various publications in 2011 and 2012, as well as an All-SEC performer. Despite playing just five games, SEC coaches still voted him an All-SEC Freshman in 2010. He's one of the most decorated defensive ends, not only in the Les Miles era, but also in LSU history.
All of these accolades, stats and football reasoning are great.
But Sam Montgomery is more than that to me. This list is ostensibly about football credentials, but our votes and reasoning is always clouded by subjectivity and personal memories.
Sam was a rare breed of athlete, one who spoke with absolute candor and comedic chops without seeming like a caricature. I'll remember his quote at a media session about his biggest fear being an empty fridge. I'll remember how he played XBox Live with a fellow scribe to help with a story about student athletes. I'll remember his affinity for Sonic, his goofy swagger and his sack dances. I'll never forget the South Carolina native speaking openly and thoughtfully about his slain brother in advance of the South Carolina game in 2012, lamenting his loss but promising to play for his state, his teammates and his brother. He displayed perspective about life and genuine interest in many around the program. He was a beloved figure among the student body and administration alike. That's hard to pull off, especially with LSU football more of an impersonal behemoth than ever. Like several friends, I met Sam personally during his time in Baton Rouge and he seemed to socialize with vigor and personality, just like he played.
Montgomery was never the best player on any one LSU D. Make no mistake, though, his teammates believed in him for all the reasons I listed above. He was larger than life in that locker room. I don't believe Sam Monty deserved higher on this list but it would have felt incomplete to me without him. Here's to one of many hearts and souls of some great Tiger defenses.