Cougars RB James Montgomery running toward amazing recovery
Washington State running back James Montgomery was worried about ever playing again, but he's on course to possibly start in the Cougars' season opener.
Times staff reporter
PULLMAN — Six o'clock on a Sunday morning, on that rarest of occasions recently around the Washington State football program — the day after a victory.
Not everyone is resting contentedly. James Montgomery is lying on his living-room floor, not having slept all night, his lower left leg mysteriously swollen and hard. Flexing his ankle, he feels a rush of fire around his shin.
Minutes later, Dr. Ed Tingstad, the WSU team doctor, is shaken from his sleep by a call from the emergency room at the hospital.
"Thankfully," Tingstad says, "I live five minutes from the hospital."
It was that dicey for Montgomery. Maybe 30 minutes later, and today he's an amputee instead of very possibly the Cougars' starting running back at Oklahoma State on Sept. 4.
Half an hour after Tingstad got to Montgomery, they were in an operating room. Tingstad produced a pressure gauge to measure the turmoil inside Montgomery's leg. What should have been 10 to 15 millimeters of mercury was instead 70 to 80.
Tingstad delivered the bad news: Montgomery's season was done. It could have been a lot worse, but still, It all seemed so unfair after the tortuous route he had taken:
Committing to Washington in 2005 as a four-star running-back prospect from Sacramento; reversing course and bowing to local pressure to stay close to home at California; not liking Berkeley, transferring to WSU and spending 2008 on the scout team.
And now this: A foot-long sausage of muscle removed from his leg, robbing him of what was left of his college career, even as it took away one of the Cougars' precious few playmakers. Montgomery was probably done with football, and he was told he might not walk the same again.
"It was rough," Montgomery says. "Just thinking my career could be over, about plays I didn't make, about stuff I could have done better."
He couldn't even figure out what caused it, this anterior lateral compartment syndrome. Tingstad told him he must have been kicked or struck by a helmet, but no matter how many times Montgomery pores over video of WSU's 30-27 overtime victory against Southern Methodist, he doesn't see it.
It's a rare football injury. Tingstad, the former WSU running back, hadn't seen one in 10 years of medical practice. He had one the other day, a guy whose leg was run over by a trailer. A teenage motorcyclist was brought to him not long ago. Too late; they had to amputate.
Tingstad compares it to kinking both ends of a hose. But instead of the leg bursting, the muscle tissue dies.
All Montgomery knows is, he was depressed last October. Weighing 13 pounds under his playing weight of 195he finally dragged himself out to see football practice. Gung-ho strength coach Darin Lovat ushered him to a stationary bike, and Montgomery's rehab began.
A month later, he was doing high-knees drills, then sprints with the linemen.
"The remainder of his leg did respond well," Tingstad says. "He didn't lose a lot of function."
Montgomery's progress was so good, they performed a micro-fracture procedure in December on his other knee. So 2010 has been one long succession of rehab drills and underwater treadmill sessions — monotonous, yes, but rewarding.
"He's doing great," WSU coach Paul Wulff said after Tuesday afternoon's workout. "He seems to be pretty close. I don't know that it's quite there yet, but I'm hoping he feels like he's 100 percent by Game 3 or 4."
He's up to 203 pounds now, rusty but ready to fulfill the mission Washington's staff saw for him under Tyrone Willingham five years ago, when he opted prematurely for the Huskies.
"Oh, man, as soon as I stepped off the plane in Seattle, I just loved the city," Montgomery says. But, he adds, "I probably shouldn't have committed."
Eventually, he succumbed to the local heat that often surrounds a star athlete.
"I had a lot of pressure from my mom and my high-school coach to stay close to home," Montgomery says. "They really liked Cal and thought it was a good opportunity."
At Cal, the other side of "staying home" troubled him.
"I had people kind of popping up all the time, friends from home," he says. "I wanted to get away from that."
The Berkeley atmosphere didn't fit him; he wanted a college town. And, he says, "Me and my coach (position coach Ron Gould), we never really jelled too well. He recruited my mom more than me."
In Pullman, he found "a college town, good people. You can't ask for much more."
Actually, he does. He asks for health. Right now, Montgomery is out there running, cutting, smiling, almost whole again.
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.