Matt Simms and Nate Montana have a few things in common.
Both play quarterback, the same position as their more accomplished brothers and Super Bowl-winning fathers.
Both played at Division I powerhouses but left this year.
And now both are enrolled in Southern California community colleges, hoping to rejuvenate their careers.
There are plenty of differences, though.
For one, Simms, whose father Phil starred for the New York Giants, was a high school standout, won a scholarship to a quarterback factory in his dad’s hometown and was slated as a future star. Then, what he describes as some “immature mistakes” and disagreements made for an abrupt end.
Meanwhile, Montana, whose father Joe won four Super Bowl titles and is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, rode the bench in high school. He was third-string at powerhouse Concord (Calif.) De La Salle and walked on without a scholarship at Notre Dame before realizing that he needed more game experience to further his career.
This summer, after some scouting by their dads, Simms enrolled at El Camino College in Torrance and Montana at Pasadena City College. Both teams open Saturday -- El Camino plays at Los Angeles Southwest and Pasadena visits Mt. San Antonio College -- and both quarterbacks are hoping to play one community college season before bouncing back to Division I. Simms has two years of major-college eligibility remaining; Montana three.
It isn’t the game plan either had in mind coming out of high school, but they seem happy.
“This brings you back to the glory days of football,” Matt Simms said before a recent practice. “It’s not like D-I when they give you a meal card and take care of you. You have to want it here.”
Simms got that meal card at Louisville, where he was the heir apparent at quarterback, the next big thing in a program that has sent its last five starting quarterbacks to the NFL. Out of high school, he played in all-star games and his face graced magazine covers.
But his undoing started when his image showed up on Internet boards -- a photograph of him rolling a marijuana joint.
Today, he offers no excuses. “There’s nothing to hide,” he said. “I was 18. I was having fun.”
The photo, Simms said, meant he had a strike against him with Louisville Coach Steve Kragthorpe before he ever set foot on campus, and he appeared in only one game in two seasons.
Montana wasn’t even close to a blue-chip recruit, and his decision to attend his father’s alma mater was considered puzzling by some experts because there were several star prospects ahead of him. Last season, he was a scout team quarterback, and when he threw only two passes in Notre Dame’s spring game he decided that the only way he could gain the game experience he needed was to leave.
“There’s stuff you can learn in practice,” he said, “but it’s completely different in a game when everything is on the line.”
Montana, 6 feet 4, 210 pounds, has earned praise for his attitude and work ethic by Pasadena Coach James Kuk, and he is the likely starter. He’ll be trying to improve the fortunes of a program that has a 16-15 overall record the last three seasons.
Simms, 6-3 and 210, connected with a perennial winner in El Camino, which is 30-6 the last three seasons and has produced four Junior College All-Americans in five seasons. He has good mobility and a “cannon” arm, his teammates say, but needs to work on his touch.
“He wants to throw everything through a wall,” El Camino Coach John Featherstone said.
So far, neither quarterback has caused much buzz around their campuses, even though their fathers have watched a few practices from the stands and plan to attend their sons’ season openers.
Between them, the fathers accounted for six Super Bowl championships and four Super Bowl MVP awards, yet neither son says he feels extra pressure. And that goes for their brothers, too, who are also successful quarterbacks: Chris Simms, is a backup for the Denver Broncos and is about to begin his sixth NFL season; and Nick Montana starts for Westlake Village Oaks Christian High and recently accepted a scholarship offer from Washington.
Joe and Phil admit, though, that their sons inevitably will be compared to them instead of judged on their own talent.
Said Phil: “The good side of it is, I’ve played football so I can explain some things very few other fathers can tell their sons.”
The spotlight aside, both Matt and Nate face different hurdles to reach where they want to be, said Mike Farrell, recruiting analyst for Rivals.com.
For instance, Farrell said, Simms left Louisville under poor circumstances, so he’ll face scrutiny from any school considering him, whereas Montana left Notre Dame for logical reasons: lack of playing time.
“As a quarterback, especially as the face of a program, if you fall, you fall pretty hard,” Farrell said. Rhett Bomar, who was the top quarterback recruit in the country in 2004, is a prime example.
After his dismissal from Oklahoma because he violated NCAA rules, Bomar received few second-chance offers because, Farrell said, he was “damaged goods.”
“The road back is going to be tough,” Simms acknowledged. “But the most important thing is that I’m going to be completely honest with every school that recruits me.”
Phil predicted of Matt that “talent will get him back somewhere.”
Joe is also optimistic about Nate’s chances, saying this possibly being the end of his son’s career is “not even on my mind.”
But Matt and Nate both say this might be their last shot.
“Yeah, to some extent, I guess it is,” Simms said. “If I don’t do whatever it is people expect me to do out here, then I guess maybe they won’t give me a second chance at the next level.”
Said Montana: “This is it for me.”