Estancia's Montillo leads by example

As a kid, Cristian Montillo used to go to his older brother's basketball practices at Estancia High. It wasn't because he was a big basketball fan. It was because Montillo's brother, Rafael, took care of him.

Rafael brought Montillo with him because no one else in the family could watch the 9-year-old during those hours.

While Rafael played on the court, Montillo played as well, by himself with his Game Boy Advance. To get through his brother's workouts, Montillo played video games.

Montillo paid more attention to the screen on the handheld video game console than what was going on inside the gym. Because he focused on the competition on the screen, and not on the court, Montillo never fell in love with basketball.

It didn't matter that his brother's team won a lot that season. What won Montillo over was soccer. Looking back, Montillo is happy he opted for a sport that he gets to use his feet to touch the ball instead of his hands in the field of play.

While he didn't pick up basketball as Rafael did, Montillo followed his brother to Estancia.

In his fourth season as a starter on the boys' soccer team, Montillo has led the Eagles to an impressive start. They began the season without allowing a goal in the first six matches.

The team's defensive attitude was a big reason for the early success. Before every match, Montillo, part of the last line of defense, talked to the goalkeeper.

"I got you," Montillo said to whoever played keeper that day for the Eagles. "I'm not going to let them score on you."

Montillo kept his word to keepers Enrique Salazar and Danny Guerrero for almost three weeks. At some point in the season, Montillo, a center back, figured the defense would give up a goal.

That's what happened on Wednesday. But one goal led to three more and the Eagles suffered their first setback of the season. A 4-2 nonleague loss at Edison stung Montillo and the rest of the Eagles.

Gone was their unbeaten start to the season. Rather than harp on what happened, or point fingers, Montillo showed his leadership skills. He told the team to move on.

"Montillo represents [what] our program [is all about]," said Coach Robert Castellano, whose team is 3-1-3. "He's positive, but he gets on these guys when he has to."

Montillo is the type of player who commands respect. He's a captain, but there's more to that title.

Last season, on a senior-laden team, there were times Montillo asked to sit on the bench. It wasn't because he wasn't performing. As a junior, he earned Daily Pilot Newport-Mesa Dream and second-team All-Orange Coast League honors.

The reason he talked Castellano into taking him out of matches was to give others on the team a chance to play.

"He would give up his spot for one of the seniors … because it was their last year," Castellano said.

"He's just that good of a kid. I never had to have a negative talk with him."

That's because Montillo has never talked back to Castellano or the rest of his staff.

Castellano said Montillo is a lot like Rafael, and he would know. Castellano's brother, Xavier, was an assistant coach on the Estancia basketball team Rafael played on eight seasons ago.

"Very respectful, very coachable, just a coach's dream to have," said Castellano, remembering how during Rafael's senior season, the Eagles won a Golden West League title and reached the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division III-A playoffs.

Rafael wasn't the centerpiece of that team, but he contributed in his last high school season.

Montillo is in his final season with the Eagles. Ending it in the same fashion as his older brother did with a league crown and a deep postseason run would be fitting to Montillo.

Twitter: @DCPenaloza


Cristian Montillo

Born: July 7, 1995

Hometown: Costa Mesa

Height: 5-foot-11

Weight: 155 pounds

Sport: Boys' soccer

Year: Senior

Coach: Robert Castellano

Favorite food: Pasta Alfredo

Favorite movie: "The Amazing Spider-Man"

Favorite athletic moment: "Playing with new people."

Week in review: Montillo helped the Eagles extend their unbeaten start to the season to six matches. During the stretch, Estancia didn't allow a goal.

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