It was late November of 2008 and the Hoboken High School football team was making yet another journey toward a state championship, but Jason Montalvo was not being a part of it.
It was a shame, considering that Montalvo was targeted for greatness, destined to become the next standout Red Wing running back from the time he was in seventh grade. And Montalvo flashed moments of that brilliance in 2007, when as a freshman, he rushed for nearly 700 yards and scored an amazing 11 touchdowns.
Montalvo was all set to have his name considered in the class of the Red Wing all-time great backs. But he ran into some obstacles last year and found himself on the outside looking in, after being dismissed from the team for disciplinary reasons.
“He was behind two good backs in [Desmond] Bates and [Cory] Willis,” Hoboken head coach Lou Taglieri explained. “He had to realize that when his time came, he would get the chance. But he didn’t understand that and had to be brought back to earth a little. He was also missing practices and giving attitude. He just needed to be straightened out.”
Montalvo said that it was painful sitting on the sidelines and watching his friends and teammates try for a state title.
“I guess I was a little immature and didn’t handle things well,” Montalvo said. “I watched my teammates go to the Meadowlands [to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I championship game against Verona at Giants Stadium last December] and it hurt me to not be a part of it. I was sitting on the sideline and not being able to play, it tore me up. I really had to come back, because football helps to keep me off the streets. I honestly think that if I didn’t have that happen to me, bad things would have happened. I had to learn my lesson. It was a valuable lesson. I knew I was never going to do it again. I was going to come back and be better than ever.”
Montalvo apologized to Taglieri and the rest of the Hoboken football program. The coach took back the talented running back on one condition – that he would come back more focused and more determined to live up to the reputation he already earned.
“I went to the weight room a lot and wanted to get bigger and stronger,” Montalvo said. “I don’t know why I did what I did, but it wasn’t going to happen again.”
“He’s matured so much,” Taglieri said. “When we started weight training in January, he was there every day. I was able to tell right away that he was changed. He just needed to be taught that what he was doing now was going to come back and hurt him later in life. We had to send him a message and I think he learned the lesson by working harder. He knew he had to be a leader on this team. We needed someone with his experience and talent.”
The talent was never an issue. Montalvo said that he gained ability as a runner playing a game in the streets of Hoboken called “Free For All” or “Every Man For Himself.”
“I played that a lot when I was younger,” Montalvo said. “You basically had to run away from others and try not to get caught. That helped me with my moves. I was able to run away from everyone.”
Montalvo transplanted those moves learned from the street to the football gridiron.
Now a junior, the 5-10, 170-pound Montalvo has obviously put his troubled times in the rear view mirror. He’s a focused, determined runner, gobbling up yardage and scoring touchdowns at will.
Two weeks ago, Montalvo rushed for 120 yards and scored three touchdowns in a big win over Snyder. Last week, Montalvo collected 250 yards on 26 carries and four touchdowns in a 47-34 win over St. Anthony. Montalvo would have scored five touchdowns, but he dropped the ball as he was crossing the goal line for his fifth score and an alert lineman then fell on the ball for the touchdown.
For his efforts and leading the Red Wings back to respectability at 2-2, Montalvo has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Taglieri knew that Montalvo would have his share of big performances this year.
“Is he where he needs to be? No,” Taglieri said. “But he’s on the right track. I think we all knew he could become one of the better ones. He knows the game, in and out. He calls out the blocking schemes for our linemen. He’s basically like a coach on the field. He also runs like he has eyes in the back of his head. His peripheral vision is excellent. Some of the cuts and moves he makes amaze me. Without a doubt, you can’t teach that.”
Montalvo said that he was very inspired to play the game last week against St. Anthony.
“Usually, before a game, I’m basically a quiet person,” Montalvo said. “But this week, I was ready. I knew it was a big game and I knew we had to win. I wanted to prove to myself and to others that I could be one of the best backs in the county. I had to come out strong in this game.”
Now, with the trouble behind him, does Montalvo see better games in the future?
“I definitely think I can do better,” Montalvo said. “I had to mature. If I never did any of what I did last year, perhaps I would have never learned. I can’t be a little kid anymore. I have to be a better person. I had to do it. I think it all made me realize what I have here. I can’t throw it away.”
Montalvo hopes that he can stay on the right course towards a possible college scholarship next year.
“When I was younger, I used to watch all the great Hoboken backs and said that I wanted to be like them some day,” Montalvo said. “It would have been really stupid for me to throw that all away.”
“He might have strayed a little, but he’s on target now,” Taglieri said. “He’s back on track. He’s a good kid. He now has something to build on.”
And Jason Montalvo is proof that football can be a truly redeeming sport if you give it the opportunity and simply do the right things. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.