By Ray Hamill — Former Eureka Logger Cruz Montana recently got to see a waterfall for the first time ever.
And he got to see a snow storm, for the first time ever.
They certainly weren’t the only highlights of his freshman year at Lewis & Clark College, where he is expected to be the starting quarterback this fall, but definitely moments he’ll remember from an exciting first year away from home.
“I really love it there,” he said of Portland. “Once the season ended I was able to go out and see some stuff. There are so many things to do there.”
Montana, a former starter at Eureka High who led the Loggers to back-to-back undefeated regular seasons and to the state playoffs, admits the move to Northern Oregon wasn’t easy at first, but now that he’s adapted he says he’s looking forward to getting back there.
“It was difficult for me at first,” he said. “I was up there and I didn’t know anybody, and I had to start over. But I made some really good friends on the team and off the team. It was definitely getting to be fun.”
Back in Eureka for the past few months because of the ongoing pandemic, Montana has been busy working out with former teammate and receiver Josiah Graham at the Redwood Bowl almost daily.
Graham, an outgoing Eureka senior, is preparing to play at Shasta College.
And Montana believes Graham, and his other former Eureka teammates who will be playing collegiately in the fall, will love the challenge.
“Seeing how I look at it now (one year on) is interesting for me to reflect on,” Montana said. “I know they’re going to love it.”
Montana made an immediate impression on his coaches after joining the Pioneers last summer.
“You know, he’s a tremendous kid with a big-time upside,” Lewis & Clark head coach Jay Locey told Humboldt Sports after the 2019 Eureka graduate completed his first collegiate touchdown pass against Pacific (Oregon) in November. “He’s been tremendous in practice and he’s done well when he’s got the opportunity to play, and boy we like him a lot.
“We love his physical attributes,” Locey added of the 6-foot-2, 195-pound freshman. “I think he’s got a strong arm, I think he’s mobile, and he’s a great leader … He’s very well respected, and he’s doing a lot of the right things here. He’s working hard in the classroom and he’s working hard everywhere else. People like him.”
Montana got his first start for the Pioneers in the final game of the season, leading them to a 33-21 win at Puget Sound.
And he says that experience was huge for his development.
“I think playing in that last game was really good for me just getting comfortable and used to playing at that level,” he said. “Going into spring ball it just felt way more comfortable.”
The Pioneers had just one week of spring football before the shutdown, and Montana remains uncertain when he will be able to return, although he’s preparing as if there will be a season.
“I think everybody’s in the same boat. I don’t think anybody has an answer right now,” he said. “But we’re preparing like there’s going to be a season.”
And that includes his daily workouts with Graham, as he tries to stay sharp and ready for the upcoming challenge.
The former Logger may be the expected starter this fall, but he knows he can’t take anything for granted.
“We’ve got other quarterbacks and some guys coming in, and they’re all good quarterbacks,” he said. “The way I look at it, I’d be a fool if I said I was the starting quarterback, but I’m ready to go and compete.”
Montana also expects the Pioneers to be more competitive this fall, and believes a young team took a huge step in the right direction under Locey in 2019.
And he says the thing he learned most as a football player in his freshman campaign is that he recognizes there are things he needs to work on.
“I just learned to work on the things I need to fix,” he said. “I’m definitely working on trying to get faster.
“When you’re running around back there in college, you’ve got to be faster,” he added with a chuckle. “And I’m working on the way I throw the ball, just to make it go higher. I had some passes batted down last year.”
As of right now, the Division-III Pioneers have a seven-game fall schedule slated to begin in early October.