by Aaron Garcia
Jade Montgomery is one of those athletes that’s hard to define. In her four years at Piedmont, the senior’s name has become synonymous with Panther success. She’s headlined several high-performing teams at the school, including last season, when she was named to the All-Rocky River 1A/2A conference basketball team after leading the Panthers to a 16-10 record and a Class 2A playoff appearance. In the spring, she played a pivotal role as a midfielder for the soccer team, which advanced all the way to the fourth round of the Class 2A soccer state playoffs before being knocked off by rival Cuthbertson, 1-0. For her efforts, Montgomery earned an N.C. Soccer Coaches Association All-State nod.
But it seems she’s saved her best for her last year of high school. This fall, she joined the football team after some cajoling from the coaching staff and promptly earned the job as the Panthers’ kicker, and even won homecoming queen, an honor she accepted in shoulder pads and cleats.
This winter, she was among the county’s high scorers at over 18 points per game for the 18-7 Panthers’ girls basketball team.
But when it really comes down to it, Montgomery considers herself a soccer player first and foremost. It’s her game, a game she’s been playing since she was four.
Now with the season underway, she’s ready to finish leaving her mark on the Unionville school. But there’s one problem; she hasn’t even started her season because she’s recovering from a sprained medial collateral ligament in her knee, an injury she suffered near the end of basketball season.
So maybe, the best definition of Jade Montgomery – at this very moment, at least – is anxious.
When she was younger, Montgomery followed her older brother Mason’s lead. She played everything she could fit into her busy schedule – t-ball, softball, baseball, soccer, basketball. If there was a ball and point system involved, she was playing.
“I did everything my brother did,” she recalled. “I was always on his team.”
After a while, Montgomery naturally gravitated to basketball and soccer; she dropped softball in the fifth grade because it became difficult to juggle her soccer and softball seasons. She received confirmation in the sixth grade that she had made the right choice when she made Piedmont Middle School’s soccer team.
“That was when they first let sixth graders try out,” she said. “I was really excited that I made it and that’s probably when I realized, ‘Hey, I can do it.’”
A big reason she was ready for the jump, said Montgomery, was the fact that she had spent years playing with her brother and his friends. They were faster and stronger than the girls she played with, and against, in organized leagues.
“Boys sports are so much more aggressive than girls sports,” she explained. “Everyone goes 100 percent – they didn’t take it easy on me just because I was a girl. You’ve just got to keep going and give your hardest effort and that will get you somewhere.”
After a while, though, the rough-and-tumble backyard games dwindled as both Montgomery and her brother spent more and more time playing for their respective high school teams. When Mason graduated last year and wanted to tryout as a kicker for the East Carolina University football team, he recruited his sister to help train during this past summer.
“Mason would bring me out and we’d practice for him, but then I’d (try kicking the football) for the heck of it,” she said.
She was a quick study.
“(Mason) probably knew I could do it, but I think he was surprised I actually got it up in the air the first time. It usually takes people a while to get (the ball) up (in the air),” said Montgomery. “Then, (Mason) told my dad and the (Piedmont football) coaches found out. I came out (to the school) one Saturday and kicked for them. That’s when it all began.”
Though she was hesistant to add football to her resume, she eventually relented, and the rest is Piedmont High School history.
The fact that Montgomery eventually went outside of her comfort zone to play football isn’t surprising to those around her, especially coaches like Marie Coggin, the Panthers’ soccer coach, who also coached Montgomery for the past four years as an assistant basketball coach. For Montogomery, said Coggin, getting a chance to compete is reward enough.
“She just plays to play; she loves to play,” said Coggin. “She doesn’t do it for anythig else.
“I think for the program and the community, it’s been good to have her and, even though she doesn’t like it, the publicity,” continued Coggin. “The publicity obviously makes (Piedmont’s athletics department) look good because she’s good, but that’s not really her motivation.”
Her motivation, it seems, is watching her team do well, whether she’s on the field or not, which is why she’s taken an active role in helping her teammates from the sidelines while recovering from her knee injury.
“I’m trying to help them so they can do well,” said Montgomery, who will matriculate to Wingate next year to play soccer and basketball. “I miss it a lot, but the team’s doing great, so they can do it (without me).”
So far, the Panthers have shown they’re more than a one-star team. They’ve battled to a 4-2 record this year and have raced out to a 2-0 record in the conference, which means they should be in pretty good shape when she returns, whenever that may be.
“(The doctors) told me (on March 14) I needed to rest for a few more weeks,” said Montgomery. “Then I can start lifting weights with it and I should be good to go.”
While the Panthers have stayed competitive without her, Coggin knows exactly what Montgomery’s presence will add to the team when she returns.
“She provides that little something extra,” said the coach. “(The other players) trust her and they know she’s going to do what’s best with the ball.
“She provides that kind of stability to the program.”
Regardless of which sport she’s playing.