By BRIAN REED-BAIOTTO, Sports Editor If someone had told you back in 2016 that two La Salle football players would be most responsible for the Lancers having a chance to knock off St. Francis in 2017, you probably wouldn’t get the answer that you would today. Back then, CJ Montes was just a middle school […]
By BRIAN REED-BAIOTTO, Sports Editor
If someone had told you back in 2016 that two La Salle football players would be most responsible for the Lancers having a chance to knock off St. Francis in 2017, you probably wouldn’t get the answer that you would today.
Back then, CJ Montes was just a middle school student, although he was playing high-profile football.
And Joey Rivera had a serious injury (broken clavicle) that ended his 2016 season.
But fast forward one year and six weeks, and it is the freshman quarterback and senior linebacker that lead on each side of the ball for coach Russell Gordon.
La Salle (3-3, 1-0) knows it comes in as an underdog Friday night when undefeated St. Francis (6-0, 1-0) comes to town for the 7 p.m. kickoff.
The Lancers had to replace literally one hundred percent of their scoring (touchdowns) from a year ago, not to mention the replacing of 22 seniors that made history for the school.
At the beginning of the season, sophomore Chris Wilson and CJ Montes split time at quarterback by design.
Wilson started the first few games and Montes took over in the second half.
After finding his groove, Montes has taken over full time to lead the Lancers offense, and it might be his job for the next four years.
He threw a Pick-6 in his first game against Arcadia that changed the complexion of the game in a loss to Arcadia.
But to his credit, and despite just turning 15, Montes has an intellect and uncommon and cool demeanor for someone his age, let alone the responsibilities that go along with playing the sport’s most important and decisive position.
Montes has completed 76 of 139 passes for just under 1,000 yards.
He’s thrown 10 TD passes and rushed for another, while being picked off four times.
Despite splitting time with Wilson early in the season, his 10 TD passes are only one less than La Salle got at quarterback all of last season.
For anyone who follows La Salle football, they all know the moment they realized this was probably going to be Montes’ job.
It was the second game of the year when he led the Lancers to a comeback victory at Monrovia, in which he threw for four TD’s and overcame a two-touchdown deficit on the road.
Without trying to sound funny, Montes is still in the process of growing into his body, and his prospects for taking his game to another level are extremely high.
If his on-the-field production wasn’t impressive enough, Montes is a 4.0 student.
Montes got most of his confidence from playing in the ‘Snoop League,’ and he’s just carried it over to La Salle.
In spite of his unbreakable confidence, Montes did acknowledge Friday night’s showdown with St. Francis is the biggest prep game of his career thus far.
“It’s my job to move the ball,” Montes said. “I have a lot of confidence in our defense to make stops as well. I am seeing the field better and completing more balls.”
Justin Lockhart (337 yards receiving 4, TD’s), Dante Coxsom (69 yards receiving, one TD) and Treynel Stewart (190 yards receiving) are his top three targets.
CJ’s parents, Cip and Kiana, and brother Aje are huge supporters and sources of strength for the 15 year old.
His peers have been impressed with his composure and maturity.
“CJ came in as a young kid and he became one of us,” senior running back Kole Hamane said. “He became our friend and he is now a leader that we all believe in. He’s going to be incredible.”
As if his experience in the Snoop League wasn’t enough, he’s also got a former Heisman Trophy finalist as his quarterback coach/offensive coordinator in Willie Tuitama.
Tuitama starred at the University of Arizona about a decade ago.
“To win Friday, we have to keep them (their offense) off the field as much as possible, and continue to move the ball,” Montes said. “We believe in each other and we’ll be ready to play.”
Rivera is a kid that no one outside of La Salle saw coming.
The senior linebacker isn’t tall, he isn’t overly strong, nor does he have lightning speed.
But Rivera has the heart, intellect and desire that it takes to be successful at this level.
He stands just 5-foot-9 and weighs about 190 pounds, but he has the universal praise and respect of his coaches and teammates.
Rivera is what defensive coordinator Randy Katz calls, “my defensive quarterback on the field.”
The Lancers’ linebacker is a character kid, who leads La Salle with 56 tackles, and Rivera is the epitome of someone called a ‘student of the game.’
“Joey is honestly the rock of our defense. He’s like the foundation of our defense, and we feed off a lot of his energy,” senior two-way starter Dante Coxsom said. “He’s a real role model to us as well as the other linebackers. It seems like they become fearless when they see Joey is fearless, and puts his body on the line.”
Rivera calls the plays, makes the adjustments and makes sure his other 10 brothers-in-arms are in the right spot to stop an opposing offense.
“I have to make sure we have 11 guys on the field and lined up right,” Rivera said. “I’m the run-filler and it’s my job to read the defense. We’ve all gotten better as a team and have matured. All the defensive backs have a gift I don’t have. Treynel, Dante and R’Mon all work their (butts) off, as do the guys who work up front with me.”
Rivera is also a family guy.
His parents Rita and Jose, and his sister, Jamie, are the center of his life and three people who have pushed him to be a better kid and student than he is even on a football field.
He’s pushing a 3.5 grade-point average and it’s going up, he said.
Rivera is also humble and realistic.
“I am not a natural athlete, but what I do have is maximum effort,” he said. “I know most people probably underrate me when they see my size, but I do pack a hit.”
And while Montes may have another shot down the road to take on St. Francis, Rivera knows this is his last head-to-head battle with the Golden Knights.
He recognizes La Salle will need to play their best football of the year to send St. Francis back to La Canada in a quiet bus.
“I’m very excited and a little nervous,” Rivera said. “What we need to do is be perfect– not in that we can’t make mistakes, I mean in not giving them stupid penalties or turnovers, because they will take advantage of them. We can’t give up big special-teams plays either.”
One thing is for certain, though.
If La Salle shocks the Golden Knights and the area’s football fans, Rivera and Montes will have done their part in the victory.
Def. coordinator Randy Katz on Rivera: “Joey is my defensive quarterback on the field. He makes our checks. He gets people where they’re supposed to be. As a kid, he’s smart. He’s a 100-percent effort guy. He plays sidelines to sideline and is a good character kid on and off the field. He does what he’s coached. He’s a technician in that he makes the right reads. He has a high motor and just plays sideline to sideline.”
Head coach Russell Gordon on Rivera: “He’s our quarterback of our defense. He makes checks and makes sure the kids are in the right places. He got injured last year and we’re lucky to have him back. He’s a hard worker in and out of the classroom. He is just a very talented young man. I appreciate the kind of kid he is.”
Off coordinator Willie Tuitama on Montes: “CJ has made strides every day and every week since he got here. He has amazing arm talent that is natural for him. Being able to hone all that in and put him in a system and let him learn a system is something he’s gotten better at each week. (To win Friday) CJ just needs to be himself. He’s calm and cool, which is a great thing, especially for a young quarterback.”
Head coach Russell Gordon on Montes: “He’s a great kid all the way around and he’s very young. He’s played some big games in his career that forced him to grow up fast. He’s progressed every day. He’s finally able to make some audible plays. He’s very thankful for everything. He’s a great student-athlete.”
Getting To Know Joey Rivera:
Favorite Team: Los Angeles Dodgers
Favorite Athlete: Rob Gronkowski
Favorite Movie: Saving Private Ryan
Favorite Musical Artist: Cage the Elephant
Musical Artist People Might Be Surprised I Like: Kenny Chesney
Famous Person Alive or Dead I’d Like A Conversation With: Kurt Cobain
Getting To Know CJ Montes:
Favorite Team: Carolina Panthers, Texas A&M
Favorite Athlete: Cam Newton
Favorite Movie: Good Burger
Favorite Musical Artist: Quavo
Musical Artist People Might Be Surprised I Like: A Boogie
Famous Person Alive or Dead I’d Like A Conversation With: Barack Obama
2017 La Salle Football Schedule-Results:
August 25: Arcadia 20, La Salle 10
September 1: La Salle 42, Monrovia 40
September 8: Birmingham 34, La Salle 21
September 15: La Salle 21, Muir 20
Sepember 22: Notre Dame Prep 48, La Salle 17
October 6: La Salle 51, Salesian 7
October 13: St. Francis at La Salle at 7
October 20: La Salle at Cathedral at 7
October 27: La Salle at St. Paul at 7
November 3: La Salle at Harvard-Westlake at 7
Angelus League Standings:
St. Francis (6-0 overall, 1-0 in league)
Cathedral (5-1, 1-0)
La Salle (3-3, 1-0)
Harvard-Westlake (5-1, 0-1)
St. Paul (2-4, 0-1)
Salesian (1-5, 0-1)