Kashif Montgomery (right) tosses a football to his five-year-old son, Naeshaun, on Wednesday afternoon at Higginson Field. Montgomery, a former standout football and basketball player for Central Falls High, is trying to overcome long odds to become a professional football player. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN.
CENTRAL FALLS â Can the unthinkable become tomorrowâs reality? In the season of rebirth and renewal of hope, along with the boundless belief that anything is possible, then, yes, Kashif Montgomery has every right to aim high.
When you believe, you can achieve. When a number of NFL teams are expressing interest in someone (Montgomery) based on a series of highlight clips posted on YouTube, coupled with the yeomanâs work put forth by a not-taking-no-for-an-answer agent (Brad Berkowitz), suddenly that wishful thinking gets replaced. It morphs into reality, one so close that you can almost reach out and touch it.
In the face of overwhelming odds, it seems inconceivable that Montgomeryâs name would be mentioned in the same sentence as an NFL hopeful. You wonât find the name of this Central Falls native appearing on any mock draft, nor will you likely hear respected draft gurus like Mel Kiper Jr. extol his on-field virtues come April 26-28, when the NFL Draft takes place.
When you cut to the heart of the matter, Montgomery is a longshot â a longshot simply looking for a chance to latch onto a team. At this point in life, the recently turned 25-year-old has absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain. In his own estimation, heâs pushing all of his poker chips toward the center of the table. Montgomery doesnât see risk; he sees dividends paying off in the form of a handsome reward, i.e. a NFL roster spot.
âI think I have a shot,â says Montgomery, confidence etched in his tone.
âIt would bring the same degree of pride that Viola Davis brought to the city,â was Central Falls Mayor Charles Moreauâs way of comparing what Montgomery is setting out to accomplish with Davis, the born-and-bred actress who landed an Academy Award nomination.
At last count, Berkowitz has been in direct contact with intrigued talent evaluators from nine NFL clubs regarding Montgomery, a high enough sum that further legitimizes this as more than just a cautionary tale. This is about someone who has been given a chance and heâs not about to let this once-in-a-lifetime pursuit slip through his clutches.
What would lead to the Patriots, Browns, Bills, Panthers, Giants, Jets, and 49ers picking up the phone? As Berkowitz noted, âItâs very tough to explain Kashifâs story to a NFL team. Itâs a long story, but it has to be fully understood.â
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IN HIGH SCHOOL, Montgomery was one of those rare athletes who could make your jaw drop in amazement, his sheer athleticism beyond reproach. The images of him taking a short pass and running free and easy on his way to the end zone, or getting out on the fastbreak on the basketball court for yet another you-had-to-see-it-to-believe-it dunk are the ones that are burnished in the mind of Moreau.
âHe was tough and fearless,â recalls Moreau.
Montgomery didnât play football his first two years at Central Falls, yet you would never know it when he joined the Warriors in the fall of 2004, his junior year. A product of the Central Falls Panthers youth football organization, Montgomery emerged as a one-man show during the 2005 campaign, averaging an eye-popping 33.7 yards per reception on his way to amassing 506 receiving yards and 15 total touchdowns. He was one of the driving forces on a Warrior team that went on to capture the Division IV Super Bowl courtesy of a 30-13 romp against Narragansett.
Regardless of the level of high school competition, Montgomery stood tall as a breakout star. By virtue of his glittering stats alone, he seemed destined to write his own ticket. Not having the necessary grades to get into college led to coaches backing off, which in turn, led to Moreau taking a more active role in making sure Montgomery didnât fall prey to the same pitfalls and shortcomings that have wiped away the futures of so many youths in the city.
Moreau made sure Montgomery got his high school diploma. He reached out to those who would assist Montgomery financially to attend Dean College. When it came right down to it, Moreau wanted to put Montgomery in a position where he would have a fighting chance to better his life.
âIâve always stood by the kids in the city and always will, helping them out in any way I could,â Moreau said.
Todd Vasey, the head football coach at Dean and former grid mentor at St. Raphael, took Montgomery on for the 2006 season. He lasted just one year at the Franklin, Mass. school, the birth of his first son, Naeshaun, forcing him to shoulder responsibilities that would prevent Montgomery from continuing on as a student-athlete.
Once more, Moreau intervened, getting Montgomery a job with the Central Falls Highway Department. Years would go by with Montgomery clinging to the hope that someday he would be able to return to college. He credits the arrival of his second son, Kashif Jr., in helping provide the impetus to actively seek out an educational path. Thanks to a coach who saw Montgomery in person at the June 2006 Rhode Island-Connecticut Governorâs Cup high school all-star game, yet another opportunity was laid before him.
SOME MEMORIES DONâT fade with time. For that, Montgomery should be thankful that Rod Hampton has a mind like an elephant. Hampton coached football at Virginiaâs St. Paul College for six years before moving on to become the offensive coordinator at Virginia University of Lynchburg. Football had not been played at VUL since 1945, which made last fallâs reintroduction of the program cause for optimism.
In order to move VUL past fledgling status, the team embarked on a search for quality personnel. With visions of Montgomery and what he was able to achieve for the Rhode Island entry in the â06 Governorâs Cup, catching two touchdowns while staging a number of electrifying kickoff returns, Hampton reached out, hoping to lure him to come south. Montgomery accepted.
Officially listed as a sophomore, Montgomery appeared in three games for the â11 Dragons, recording five tackles all while rotating on defense and helping out on special teams. Physically, he was in Lynchburg. Mentally, though, he was still back in C.F., thinking of his young boys.
âEvery day I wanted to find an excuse to come home,â Montgomery said. âAs a man, I had to keep telling myself that this is for them.â
Luther Palmer, the defensive coordinator at Lynchburg, never hesitated to move Montgomery around whether the situation called for him to line up at strong safety, cornerback, or defensive end. Naturally, having God-given talent helps, but possessing a high football IQ allowed Montgomery to fit in seamlessly no matter where he was plugged in.
âHe had no regard for his body,â Palmer said, not mincing words. âPlus he was able to transfer what was written on the board and go out and execute it flawlessly.â
At the end of Lynchburgâs 4-6 season, Montgomery found himself standing on the periphery with life hitting just a little too close to home. He desperately wanted to do right by Naeshaun, now 5, and two-year-old Kashif Jr. and provide for them.
âThey are my motivation,â Montgomery stressed.
He thought about transferring and playing football at URI, but that was before he was told that he was too far removed from his high school graduation, thus making him ineligible. Then came the events of Christmas Eve 2011 when close friend Cory Garabedian was involved in a horrific accident in Central Falls that nearly left him for dead.
The starting quarterback on that fabled 2005 Central Falls squad, Garabedian ended up having his right leg amputated. Naturally, the news shook Montgomery greatly.
Signs, signs âŠ everywhere Kashif Montgomery looked, there were signs that rang out like a siren in the night, ones that proved instrumental in him adopting a ânow or neverâ outlook. For the first time in his life, he knew what he wanted to do with himself.
âI always encourage guys to take care of family first,â said Palmer when asked if Lynchburg officials were caught off-guard by Montgomeryâs departure. âIn terms of fulfilling his dream that would help secure him and his family, I was 100 percent behind him.â
What remained to be seen was whether anyone would emerge from the shadows and provide Montgomery with the necessary boost to get on the NFLâs radar. Turns out that someone was Brad Berkowitz.
WHATEVER PIECE OF video Montgomery could find about himself, he put up on YouTube. A sports marketing firm named Agency Athlete passed Montgomeryâs name off to Berkowitz, whose background includes 22 years on Wall Street. Berkowitz left the world of stock trading in 2008 to become a licensed NFL agent, though due to family matters, waited close to three years before taking on actual clients.
Upon Montgomeryâs information crossing his desk, Berkowitzâs eyes lit up. A meeting in early February was scheduled at the agentâs Midtown Manhattan office. The more Berkowitz got to know Montgomery through various newspaper clips denoting his athletic prowess, the more he believed that his new client was worth fighting for. Berkowitz also provided Montgomery with a reality check.
âMarketing-wise, I told him that he was probably going to be a big challenge,â Berkowitz said. âI wasnât saying that he was a bad ballplayer, but NFL teams were going to want to see film.â
Berkowitz wasted little time in going to bat on Montgomeryâs behalf. Just to be certain that Montgomery was draft eligible, he phoned the NFLPA. On Monday, March 19, Berkowitz received the green light to shop Montgomery around as the most unheard of 6-foot-2, 200-pound wide receiver on the market. A profile geared to further shedding light on Montgomery was posted on college2pro.com. That was only the beginning of Berkowitzâs handiwork, for knowing how the NFL operates, Montgomery had to be placed in a live setting with actual NFL types in attendance.
A call was made to those running a regional scouting combine in Atlanta. Another call was made to Brown University to see if Montgomery could come to the schoolâs pro day, with Berkowitz telling officials âitâs the only shot he may ever have.â A private workout was arranged with the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the Canadian Football League, the session bringing Montgomery to Florida.
Every time a pro team reaches out to Berkowitz, he takes to his Twitter account to inform the masses. Right from the start, Berkowitz was sold on Montgomery; it was up to him to sell Montgomery to everyone else.
âBrad has been working on my behalf since the moment I hung up the phone with him,â said a most gracious Montgomery.
âHe could be better than anyone else,â Berkowitz said. âItâs just that no one knows about him.â
At the Brown Pro Day on March 20, Montgomery bench-pressed 225 pounds a startling 19 times. Heâs been clocked at 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
âTeams really donât believe me,â Berkowitz said. âIâm like âOK, what did you see with your own eyes? Did you see this kid perform?â
âTheyâre like âYeah,ââ he continued. âI reply, âThatâs all you need to see. Thatâs who he is.ââ
At least twice a week, Berkowitz has Montgomery come down to New York to work with Albany quarterback Dan Di Lella, a prospect many NFL teams are keeping close tabs on. When heâs in Rhode Island, Montgomery is training under the supervision of Lorenzo Perry, the former La Salle Academy and Bryant University tailback.
âHe comes to me every day,â Perry said about how often he and Montgomery get together. âI told Kashif that I would do whatever it takes to help him get to the next level.â
IF KASHIF MONTGOMERY is able to do the unthinkable â that is, get drafted into the NFL â his immediate reaction would be to ârun around the block three or four times. Then Iâll lay in the grass and pass out,â his thoughts undoubtedly including his two sons.
Berkowitz has chatted up with enough NFL clubs to know that someone figures to take a shot and extend an invite to Montgomery to attend mini-camp. If the NFL doesnât pan out, thereâs always the Arena Football League or the CFL. Montgomery has options.
For someone to go from absolutely no prospects at all to someone on the cusp of possibly strapping on a helmet for a living, itâs been one wild ride for Montgomery with the best hopefully still to come.
âIf he gets a shot and plays well, this would be the biggest story in the NFL this year,â said Berkowitz. âAdmittedly, heâs very raw, but heâs a good kid and very coachable. He understands the game and is willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.â