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High School Sports

How Montana Lemonious-Craig’s recruitment improved with patience and Inglewood’s turnaround

Inglewood receiver Montana Lemonious-Craig makes an over-the-shoulder catch during a summer camp at USC on June 19.
Inglewood receiver Montana Lemonious-Craig makes an over-the-shoulder catch during a summer camp at USC on June 19.
(Shotgun Spratling / Los Angeles Times)

Montana Lemonious-Craig was born and raised in Inglewood, growing and learning at Claude Hudnall Elementary School and Darby Park before eventually making it to Inglewood High where he’s been a part of the football program for four years. Now he’s ready to take Inglewood on the road after committing to Colorado on Friday, completing a journey from the passed over to the Pac-12.

“It was all about being patient and just working hard. If you work hard, you’re going to get noticed,” Lemonious-Craig said. “It feels great because everybody from the West Coast wants to be somewhere in the Pac-12. It’s just knowing that I get the opportunity to play against all those big schools.”

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound receiver battled through three seasons of struggles with the Sentinels, including an 0-10 record last year. Lemonious-Craig put up solid numbers as a junior with 30 receptions for 573 yards and eight scores to go along with 62 tackles and two interceptions. But college coaches weren’t kicking down the door to recruit him. His team was winless and he was scholarship-less.

A year later, the Sentinels won 12 games and Lemonious-Craig’s recruitment had a meteoric rise.

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Lemonious-Craig was the program’s backbone as Mil’Von James took over as the fourth coach in as many years. James built around him and while some new players transferred in, everyone looked to ‘Mr. Inglewood’ as Lemonious-Craig was dubbed by the new coaching staff. He was the heart and soul, receiver and cornerback, punter and punt returner, leader and star of the team.

Casey Collier, a three-star offensive lineman standout from Texas, announced his commitment to USC on Monday.

“He’s a tough, resilient young man. He fought through a lot of adversity in his world and he’s better for it,” James said. “He knows what it takes for success because he had to go through some hard times there. He’s always really willing to get better and he’s extremely hardworking. He comes from a great family. Super intelligent young man and I think the sky is the limit for him.”

The hard work of Lemonious-Craig set the standard for the rest of the Sentinels and his production — 46 catches for 1,289 yards and 23 touchdowns; 70 tackles and six interceptions — led the team to the Southern Section Division 13 semifinals and drew the attention of colleges.

Lemonious-Craig started attracting Group of Five offers early in the spring as he added weight to his frame and showcased improved physicality and route running on the seven-on-seven circuit. College interest only grew from there as he continued to attack his weaknesses.

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“It’s just a testament to the hard work he’s done. Coming from a kid who was virtually unknown to someone that is going to a Pac-12 school,” James said. “He put on 10-15 pounds. He ran routes better. He had the best season of his high school career. And it also shows that it’s never too late. For all those young men who are still waiting, not sure if things are going to come their way, it’s never too late.”

Lemonious-Craig picked up an offer from Auburn and then later in the spring Arizona provided his first Pac-12 offer. Colorado offered him in October and after taking an official visit the weekend before Thanksgiving, Lemonious-Craig knew where he wanted to go. He informed Buffaloes coach Mel Tucker and receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini.

“The facilities are great,” Lemonious-Craig said. “The coaching staff is great. Coach Mel knows what he’s doing. Coach Chev is a great coach. He knows football. He knows the Xs and O’s. He wants to put me in the right direction to be able to go out there and be successful.

Tyler Wegis followed his father’s advice and took unofficial visits to other schools despite consistent interest from Utah. Finally, he committed.

“And I mean, I loved it up there, everything about it,” he added. “It gets a little cold, but all you got to do is dress to that. Overall, it was a great experience. And that’s where I want to be.”

Berry bound for Boulder

The Buffaloes also picked up a commitment last week from Harbor City Narbonne High defensive tackle Jordan Berry. Berry had previously committed to Louisiana State, but opened up his recruitment in October. The addition of Berry, Lemonious-Craig and four other November commitments helped bump Colorado’s 2020 recruiting class up to No. 29 in the nation and No. 4 in the Pac-12.


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