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Montana making name for himself

Nick Montana hasn't taken the time to sit down and hear the stories.

The touted quarterback prospect and member of the ESPNU 150 Watch List is still waiting for that tell-all conversation with his father, Joe.

Sure, he's listened to some tales about tricks they played on rookies in the NFL or pranks at Notre Dame. Just not the classics.

He has yet to receive the play-by-play of the 92-yard, heart-stopping drive against the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII. He's holding out on asking the man known as "Joe Cool" before he became "Dad" how in the world he saw Dwight Clark floating in the back of the end zone in the 1981 NFC championship.

"I keep telling myself I want to ask him about all that stuff," said Nick Montana, the starter for Oaks Christian High (Westlake Village, Calif.). "I haven't talked to him about The Catch or the Super Bowls or anything like that."

Perhaps down the road, the NFL Hall of Famer and three-time Super Bowl MVP for the 49ers will break it all down for his son.

But right now the focus is on the future, not the past.

First, it was Nathaniel, the oldest son and a preferred walk-on at Notre Dame, the same school that welcomed his sisters, Elizabeth and Alexandra.

Now, it's Nick's turn.

An Under Armour All-American and a University of Washington commit, the youngest son of Joe and Jennifer Montana has it all in front of him.

As the family celebrates Father's Day on Sunday along with millions of Americans, it does so with the sun shining on Nick and with the famous patriarch standing in the shadows watching, waiting, helping when asked and steadying when necessary.

"I'm sure a lot of people wonder about it -- you know, how it is to get coached by your dad," said Nick. "I was at that point for a while, but I realized that he's experienced, and he knows exactly what he's talking about it. After a play, we'll talk it over. He's not going to yell or get on me. He's been a help."

Despite occasionally lending a hand at an Oaks Christian practice, and despite the plans to be the eye in the sky on Friday nights for the Lions in the fall, Joe is as unassuming as ever.

"When you got the greatest quarterback to ever play the game to help your offensive coordinator out, that's pretty good," Oaks Christian coach Bill Redell said. "I welcome him out [to practice]. He's very respectful. And if you ask his opinion he'll give it to you … but you got to ask. He's the type of parent you'd like to have in your program."

Consummate parents, Joe and Jennifer Montana politely declined interview requests for fear of anyone believing they are focusing on Nick over their other children.

Those who know the family say this is how they are.

Well-aware of his celebrity, Joe is down-to-earth, courteous and happy to be out of the spotlight. He may not even be the biggest star among the football parents at Oaks Christian, considering the offspring of actor Will Smith and hockey legend Wayne Gretzky also wear the uniform.

"Sometimes parents tend to be over-the-top," Redell said. "But these parents really have everything in perspective."

That's not to say Joe is disengaged. Just the opposite.

Both sons recalled their father's instructions on anything from mechanics to film work. Nate Montana said he uses the tutelage like never before.

"I realized now more than ever how much he knows and how much he can help me develop into a better player," said Nate, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound De La Salle (Concord, Calif.) product. "This summer I've been using him way more than I did in the past. In high school, it was still my dad, and it wasn't the same as it was now."

It's not all coaching, however. Just ask about family vacation time, and you'll get a story about pool basketball -- H-O-R-S-E, P-I-G or just one-on-one. It is physical and serious.

"He's pretty competitive," Nick said. "Definitely."

The same attributes have helped Nick become a top-flight prospect. He's a quarterback sound enough to be tutored by guru Steve Clarkson, who also taught USC's Matt Barkley and Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen, an Oaks Christian alum.

But the family is constantly working to avoid comparisons between father and sons.

Nick recalled an early conversation with his parents that included instructions on how to deal with his last name. There may be pressure, they told their sons, and people may talk. Understand what's coming and ignore it.

"We don't feel we have to live up to anything like that," Nick said.

The paradox? When recruiting analysts gauge Nick's prospects, they sound like they're talking about his father.

"Does he have great size? No," said Tom Luginbill, the national recruiting director for ESPN's Scouts Inc. "Does he have a great arm? No. Neither did his father, though, and there is far more to playing the quarterback position than just arm strength. He definitely inherited his father's sense of timing, accuracy, deceptive athleticism and knack for making plays. He understands the game, operates the scheme and is ultracompetitive."

The 6-foot-2, 177-pounder led the Lions to a 14-0 record by completing 133 of 241 passes for 2,404 yards with 33 touchdowns and seven picks in 2008. He earned Los Angeles Daily News newcomer of the year honors and a ton of recruiting calls.

You name the school, Nick received an offer from it: Arizona State and Alabama, Maryland and Miami, Notre Dame and Nebraska, and others.

Nick didn't love the circus, and he longed for it to be over.

He did that by pledging to play for UW coach Steve Sarkisian, the former USC offensive coordinator who takes over a program on the heels of a historic 0-12 finish.

Many assumed Nick would follow in his father's national-title-winning footsteps to play under the watchful eye of Touchdown Jesus, but he made his decision after he consulted several knowledgeable sources.

There was Nate, who offered real perspective on Notre Dame.

"I told him what my experience was," he said, "and what our routines were like. I also told him he's got to talk to the coaches and ask the players about the system [at every school]. Most of them will be honest with you."

Redell harped on finding the right situation, which helped lead the prospect to Sarkisian, the former BYU star who has playing time available.

"He'll be an outstanding college quarterback, but you got to go to the right school," Redell said. "At Washington, I think [he'll] fit in perfectly."

Luginbill said as much. He lauded Montana for choosing a school that will accentuate his strengths. In a down recruiting year for quarterbacks, Montana is among those who could thrive sooner rather than later.

All of which begs the question: Would Nick have been as highly recruited if his name was Nick Smith?

"He would not receive the media attention if his last name was not Montana," Luginbill said, "but he would be a BCS-level recruited prospect. So if the name helps him, good for him."

Clearly, Nick understands the reality.

And while Joe works to balance his parenting, storytelling and coaching, he exists as much in the background as possible. Yet every once in a while, as if to show his sons some flashes of what made him a star, he'll channel the past.

"He can still throw it," Nate said, before laughing. "He just can't move as well."

Ian R. Rapoport covers University of Alabama athletics for The Birmingham News. He can be reached at irapoport@bhamnews.com.