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Chris Murphy, Published November 12 2013

Underwood's Montgomery playing with a torn ACL

Fargo - Underwood (Minn.) senior A.J. Montgomery doesn’t have time to fix the torn ACL in his left knee. The Rockets are too busy winning.

“I saw a couple people who had other things wrong that were playing and I just said, ‘I could walk just fine. I could run just fine. I need to play. Why can’t I play?’” Montgomery said.

Generally, a torn ACL is a very viable excuse not to play. Not for Montgomery, who is two months removed from tearing his ACL and has played outside linebacker in the last three playoff games for Underwood. In three games, Montgomery has 19.5 tackles, four tackles for a loss, one interception, one forced fumble and two surgeries postponed.

And Underwood has three wins.

“His heart is totally into it,” Underwood coach Chuck Ross said. “Right after the Brandon-Evansville game, which was our first playoff game, he came to me and said, ‘I got to play.’ Talked it over with his mom and dad and they were all in agreement that he needed to do this just for himself otherwise he’d never know.”

Montgomery’s return has an Underwood team, unranked in the top 10 all season, playing with the final four Class 9-man teams Thursday at the Metrodome.

“Everybody rallied around him,” Ross said. “It gave the team a huge lift. Everyone had tears in their eyes after his first game and he had the biggest smile you’d ever seen. We’re playing our best football at the right time of the year.”

Montgomery watched this season as newspapers and television stations interviewed junior running back Noah Thompson and thought the two words all athletes dread: What if?

“I didn’t think of it until people started interviewing him,” Montgomery said regarding the spotlight on Thompson’s 2,401 rushing yards this season. “When he started getting the press and everyone started talking to him, I couldn’t help but think, ‘That could have been me.’”

It was supposed to be Montgomery. He was the running back for Underwood since he was a sophomore. In a scrimmage, days before the first game of his senior season, the three letters every athlete dreads came up: ACL.

“The play was kind of over and someone kind of fell into him and he tore his ACL,” Ross said. “I felt so bad for him. He put so much time and effort into this. He’s one of our most dedicated players we really had. He’s been starting since 10th grade and he was really looking forward to starting his senior year.”

Montgomery had always gotten up and this time would be no different. He got up, stretched and jogged with the trainer and even ran in a 5-yard touchdown later in another scrimmage. After the touchdown, Montgomery couldn’t get up.

“I thought I’d get up, but I couldn’t,” Montgomery said. “I collapsed again and at that point I knew I was done. I was absolutely devastated. I didn’t know what to think or how to act. It was my worst nightmare coming true.”

It didn’t stop Montgomery from showing up every day.

“Even when he was hurt and not playing, he never missed a practice,” Ross said. “He was holding up offensive cards and defensive cards and was just always there.”

After two Underwood playoff wins pushed the surgery dates back, the Montgomerys decided to stop assuming the season would end each week and push the surgery date to Dec. 18. By then, the Rockets could be state champions for the first time ever.

“After we won, the first game, it was postponed and then we won the next,” Montgomery said. “I finally told my mom that we should just wait until the season is actually over.”

Although it’ll only be a four or five-game senior season for Montgomery, he picked a good time to play those games.

“It makes me feel like maybe my leadership may have helped the rest of the team to play better,” Montgomery said. “Everything came together with the team and it feels awesome.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548