Heading into the 2012 season, it was hard to find a more well-rounded SEC defensive end than LSU's Sam Montgomery.
He could have left school early last year and headed for the NFL, and no one would have questioned him. But he decided to stay in Baton Rouge to not only become a better player but he wanted to earn his degree as well.
To him, the league could wait.
Through three games, Montgomery has registered seven tackles, with 2.5 for loss and a sack, and has three quarterback hurries.
Montgomery took some time out of his busy schedule to talk with ESPN.com about the season so far and how he really feels about turning down millions in the NFL.
You had kind of an awkward start to the year by not starting, but you've come on strong since. How have the first three weeks of the season been like for you?
Sam Montgomery: This year, so far, has been like a roller-coaster ride for me. It's been up and down, up and down. But the one thing that's stayed consistent is that I've gone out there and played my hardest and played my technique. I try to get off my block and try to make all the tackles that I can and stay excited for the team, being as I'm one of the energy guys out there. They feed off my energy. My plays will come, but the overall thing is that I play my assignment with full effort, full technique and everything comes together for the team. The "W" is what's important.
What was going through your mind when the coaches came to you and said you wouldn't be starting the opener?
SM: When I wasn't starting, I looked at it as we have the best, top 3 defensive ends in the country. It also gave my buddy Lavar [Edwards] a chance to show and display his talent, which he's been doing a great job of consistently. That will probably give him a higher chance at the next level and to pursue his career and dreams because he's a great defensive end. I have no problem with me, [Barkevious] Mingo or Lavar [playing] because I know they'll go out there and handle their jobs. All I know is that third man, no matter who it is, it's going to add on some extra pressure for that tackle coming in because we have three powerful forces, plus, the young guy Chancey Aghayere.
With all the hype and attention you got heading into the season, did not going out first in the opener motivate you?
SM: Of course it did. Being a guy that doesn't really listen to what people say or look at where everybody ranks me at, I'm just trying to help and win games so I can make my memories with my teammates last a little bit longer. That's all that really matters to me. What other people think is all good, well and dandy, but, at the end of the day, it's all about LSU and all about my defensive line being able to play longer into the season together, so we can build our memories and our friendships that will last forever.
What does it feel like to play on a line with all that talent? You have to feel a little greedy at times, right?
SM: Oh, greedy? No. Ready to get on plays quicker than anybody else? Yes. It's a team thing, but it turns into a stat battle. It's about who plays technique the best and who gets off the ball the fastest. Really, when it comes down to it on our defensive line, it's a technique battle and who gets to the play fastest. Everybody's good. Everybody's fast. Everybody finishes strong. So what is the key thing to me? It's everybody making plays. When your time comes, were you playing your hardest and were you playing with correct technique? That's the key for who makes the plays now.
How much fun do you have playing with those guys?
SM: Too much. I have too much fun in games and I have too much fun in practice. Sometimes, my coaches have to tell me to shut up, but they love it in game time because when it's fourth-and-long or it's third-and-tight-inches, that energy boost is what the team feeds off. That gives them the energy to make those plays and get us off the field.
When I talked to you in New Orleans for the national championship you said you weren't ready for the NFL, but looking back at it now, is it tougher to think that you turned down the draft this year?
SM: Of course it's tough. It's always going to be tough, but one of my main reasons for coming back and not going to the NFL was because of my degree. I refuse to be out here and let something happen and me not be close enough to my degree. I want to make sure that I have a complete alternate choice if something happens and I cannot play football. I want the right networking information if something happens in football. I had to make sure all ends were covered so if football does leave me early I'll still have income and I'll still have networking I can do and I want to do as far as being a human being working a 9-to-5.
On the field, what are some of the things you need to improve on in order to reach your goal of playing in the NFL?
SM: I want to work on having more technique, using more hands, reading more plays and stuff like that. I just want to go into games and play with great effort and try to pick up on concepts, schemes and things like that from the offense. I still have a lot more to learn and as time grows, I'll become a great technician. Now, where I am is a guy who plays with all out effort and fights for his dreams in between the lines.
So, here's what everyone wants to know: Who's faster? You or Mingo?
SM: Well, in the 40, Mingo's faster, but off the line, I'll have to give it to myself. I kind of come off the ball kind of crazy. I just think my want to beat him makes me faster. I know I have to get off that football or Mingo is going to get that sack first or the tackle first. It seems like a race.