Former Bellevue High School football teammates and longtime friends Chad Montgomery and Mike Gullett sat across from each other in a booth one day last December at Applebee’s Restaurant in Crestview Hills. They were having some dinner and talking about their alma mater during one of their get-togethers.
More specifically, they were discussing their one big common love, the Bellevue football team, a one-time small-school power so feared the Tigers’ reputation preceded them onto the field. But Bellevue had won just three games in four years and couldn’t complete the 2022 schedule due to lack of players following a spate of injuries. That left the former Tigers concerned.
Montgomery knew the situation all too well. He was keeping tabs on the Tigers. His Dayton squad played Bellevue every year for 12 years, four of those years when he was a Dayton assistant. A football season shutdown due to roster-depleting injuries happened to Montgomery when he had to forfeit two games in 2018, his eighth and final season as Dayton head coach.
“Mike and I are pretty tight. We had a long conversation. He made me think about a lot of things,” Montgomery said. “Basically, he talked me into keeping an open mind about Bellevue if there was another change. I thought Bellevue had a good coach. And I was kind of beating myself up over my football record at Dayton, and I have kids of my own now.”
Montgomery was Bellevue’s fourth all-time leading rusher with 2,559 yards and fourth all-time in touchdowns with 42 when he graduated in 2001. He was well-liked and respected on and off the field. He learned a lot about the intricacies of football and much about coaching football from Bellevue legend Charlie Coleman, who coached Montgomery in high school. Montgomery can say without reservation he would not be a football coach without Colemen’s influence in his life. The two speak regularly to this day.
With memories of his youth steeped so deeply in Bellevue Tiger football, Montgomery considered the head coaching position at his alma mater a dream job. He applied for the position early in his coaching career and was passed over in favor of another choice. But coaches came and went at Bellevue. Montgomery eventually became coach at Dayton.
Since Coleman retired following the 2000 season during Montgomery’s senior year, Bellevue has had 10 head football coaches. Six coaches stayed two years or fewer before moving on. While there have been successes, they have been few and far between. The last Bellevue winning season was in 2014. The Tigers haven’t won two playoff games in the same postseason since 2009. The Tigers record over the previous four years is 3-26. It’s 19-64 over the previous eight years.
Even so, Montgomery did not apply again for Bellevue head football coach when the position opened up. Eventually, he resigned as head coach at Dayton and assisted at Cooper for one year in 2019. While Montgomery was out of football, Bellevue finished 0-8, 1-10, and 0-9 last season with just 15 healthy players. The head coach left after one season and the search was on yet again for a new one, the Tigers’ third coach in three years.
It was a far fall from grace. The Tigers won state twice in 1977 and 1979 and were a Class A title game fixture under Coleman that decade. The Tigers were back in the title game in 1990. They went 11-2 in Montgomery’s senior season. When he was a junior, they finished the 1999 regular season unbeaten and 12-1 overall, the lone loss coming in the playoffs.
When the Bellevue head football coach position opened up once more in February, Montgomery thought about the Tigers’ halcyon days. He thought about coach Coleman. He thought about the conversation with Gullett at Applebee’s. He had a long talk with his wife about exploring the possibility of applying and getting back into coaching.
“She gave her blessing,” Montgomery said. “Honestly, that was huge.”
This time, Montgomery won the Bellevue job. At long last he was home again, ready to rebuild a team he cares for like no other.
“I love my coach for that,” said fullback/linebacker Landon Corley, a four-year veteran who’s seen the leanest of times at Bellevue. “The coaching staff, I love them all. They came in with the mindset that we’re going to win. I believed that. And we’re starting to win.”
It was all by design, thanks to the new head coach, who’s having his Welcome Back, Kotter moment, without the Sweathogs. Montgomery also teaches health and physical education at Bellevue. After he was hired, some football players quickly noticed his picture from 1999 on a wall in the basement near the cafeteria, providing empirical proof the coach was once a real, live Tiger helping the cause.
“I have four Bellevue guys on my staff,” Montgomery said. “Two of them, Mike Gullett and Rory Rechtin, are two of my former teammates. Another assistant, Ryan Daudistel, was a player when I was an assistant at Bellevue. Bones Egan has been a Bellevue assistant for 38 years. These guys know football. They know Bellevue football. They care.”
Montgomery and his staff built the roster, coaxing former players back to the team, some who had not played since middle school. They added some new blood. The Tigers started the season with 28 players, including 11 seniors, four juniors, 10 sophomores and three freshmen.
Then the craziness began. Bellevue was beaten at Eminence 52-18 in the season opener with Montgomery away from the sideline and in the coaches’ box because of an arm injury. The result was reversed and ruled a forfeit in favor of Bellevue when Eminence self-reported use of an ineligible player. The Tigers lost a heartbreaker 8-6 at Trimble County in the second game. They beat Cincinnati Riverview East, 32-22 at home in game three and took down Lynn Camp, 34-20 in their latest action Sept. 9 also at home. After four games, the Tigers are 3-1. Most improbably, they are just three scoreboard points short of being officially undefeated.
“Couldn’t be happier,” Montgomery said. “But we’ve got a lot to work on still, obviously.”
Following a week off, the Tigers are back in action next at home on Friday against Cincinnati Gamble Montessori. Players and coaches can’t wait. In four weeks, the Tigers have been credited with as many wins as the last four seasons combined.
“It’s great,” said two-way lineman Jackson Day, another four-year veteran who’s weathered the storm. “A lot of kids’ attitudes have changed. The school is behind us. People are believing in the program again. With coach Montgomery, it feels like he knows more about what we’re going though because he played here, too. “
For the most part players are staying healthy, due to improved conditioning, scaled-back practices and greater efficiencies elsewhere in the program. The Tigers are holding steady at 27 players after losing two to injury and gaining another former middle school player. Coach Montgomery said everyone on the roster deserves credit for helping the football team survive its darkest days.
“A lot of them have been through some rough times,” Montgomery said. “But they finally get to experience a little bit of fun.”
The coach said the Tigers are also doing it the right way.
“I’ve got to give them credit. They have really cleaned things up lately,” Montgomery said. “The offensive line is better. Jordan Pendleton is really playing well. We’ve had just one personal foul all year and got that the last game against Lynn Camp.”
Statistically, the Tigers are led by Pendleton, a sophomore breakout back who has amassed a team-leading 464 rushing yards on 53 carries for 8.7 yards per carry with six rushing scores. Pendleton also has team-best receiving totals of 16 catches, 227 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Quarterback Tristan Woodyard is 35-for-65 passing for 454 yards with four touchdown passes. Brayden Sizemore has 13 receptions for 145 yards and two TDs.
Paving the way up front in the power spread offense are Patrick Vogt at left tackle, Arion Stuckey at left guard, Day at center, Izahia Coston at right guard and Derrick Fortner at right tackle.
On defense in the 3-3 stack, everybody is involved. Wyatt Messman leads the team with 26 total tackles. Right behind him are Kayne Ross (21 tackles), Pendleton (21), Sizemore (20), Corley (19), Day (18), Peyton Hopper (18) and Woodyard (16).
“We’re ready to restore the roar,” Day said. “Everybody’s ready to play.”
Messman and Pendleton had one sack each. Sizemore and Aiden Dickerson each had one interception. Dickerson returned his pick 63 yards for a touchdown.
“It’s neat being back. It’s been a long time and obviously some things have changed,” Montgomery said. “But this is home. This is Bellevue football. It’s important to me. I’m going to do everything I can to help these kids win. Right now, we’re winning and I’m really happy for them.”