Lew Montgomery learned about life from a pair of Iowa coaching icons
Viewed by fans as legendary figures, Hayden Fry and longtime running backs coach Carl Jackson were much more than that to the former Hawkeye fullback.
They were like fathers. They were mentors who preached not just about blocking schemes and keys to defeating the next opponent — but also about how to succeed beyond the gridiron.
About being a role model and community leader, handling adversity, taking pride in one’s work, and competing to achieve a goal.
More than 20 years later, Montgomery is still applying the knowledge he gained from Fry and his coaching staff — both in his own life and in shaping the lives of others.
The 44-year-old former Hawkeye is a program manager and career coach for ACT in Iowa City, providing work development strategies and advice to employees seeking support.
“I use a lot of the skills I gained from being an athlete,” he said of his current role. “I’m a coach to my clients. I can’t go out and get someone a job, but I can be that person on the sidelines, developing a game plan they can execute to achieve career goals.”
Beyond his full-time job, Montgomery has a family-owned HR consulting business called Gridiron Solutions, LLC, and his heavily involved in several charitable endeavors and non-profits, including serving on the board of directors for the Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Johnson County.
When it comes to game planning for life’s many hurdles, the former Hawkeye learned from some of the best.
“The best decision I’ve ever made”
Montgomery could have gone anywhere. Notre Dame, Nebraska, Michigan State — all were looking to draw the standout running back from Waterloo East high school.
He opted to stay in state and attend Iowa, a decision he will never regret.
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“Having the opportunity to be coached by Hayden Fry was a childhood dream,” Montgomery said. “The friendships I built on the team, in the community, and through the University are lasting memories. I speak so passionately because I truly feel that going to the University of Iowa was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Montgomery made the most of his decision, becoming a key contributor for the Hawkeyes. He scored 17 career touchdowns, earned all-Big Ten honorable mention recognition his junior season, and was a member of the 1990-91 Rose Bowl squad — the last Iowa team to make it to Pasadena.
What set Montgomery apart from other fullbacks was his unique running style. He took pleasure in delivering a blow to an opposing tackler, but Montgomery played bigger than his 212-pound frame. That gave him the ability to break a 15-20 yard run when defenders least expected it.
Marvin Lampkin — Montgomery’s Hawkeye teammate and college roommate — described him as a perfect combination of fullback and tailback.
“Lew was a hybrid,” Lampkin said. “He could catch the ball out of the backfield and block very well, but he was also a slasher who could burst by defenders.”
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Montgomery developed a strong bond with his position coach Carl Jackson. The longtime coach’s positive attitude and keen ability to manage and motivate are lessons the former Hawkeye fullback still carries with him to this day.
Football remains a large part of Montgomery’s life. The married father of four still attends Iowa games, works as a high school football broadcaster for KCRG 9.2 television in Cedar Rapids, and serves as an Iowa football analyst for a handful of local sports talk radio shows.
Montgomery faced difficult opponents during his time wearing the Black and Gold, but no Big Ten foe could compare to the battle the former Hawkeye and his family are up against.
His youngest child — 17-year-old son Lucas — has a rare genetic disorder called Sanfilippo Syndrome, a metabolism disorder that causes several medical complications. There are no treatment options and the life expectancy is in the mid-teens.
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Montgomery hosts several community events to raise awareness for the disorder, including 5K races, football camps, and an annual golf outing. He posts all of the events on his website.
While efforts are focused primarily on awareness, Montgomery estimates the events have raised about $80,000 over the past nine years for Sanfilippo research. The outpouring of support makes the former Hawkeye incredibly proud to be an Iowan.
“He has introduced us to so many people and given us such an appreciation for life,” Montgomery said of his son. “We had two options — do nothing or stand up and fight. There’s no giving up in me or in my son. We may not save my son’s life, but the effort and money we’re raising is going to save the life of another kid.”
Now in its ninth year, the annual Links for Lucas took place earlier this month, with about 20 teams participating in the event. Montgomery also hosts the Gridiron Greats of Iowa youth football camp each summer in Cedar Rapids to teach kids about football fundamentals and raise awareness for his son’s disorder. Former Iowa football players such as Lampkin, Brad Banks, Mitch King, and Mikkel Brown assist Montgomery with the camp.
Lampkin has remained close friends with his Hawkeye teammate since their playing days. Seeing Montgomery’s resiliency, dedication and commitment toward educating others about Sanfilippo Syndrome motivates Lampkin to support the family in any way possible.
“Lew’s a vocal leader, but he’s also a guy that can back it up with his work ethic,” Lampkin said. “People follow Lew because he demonstrates the same behaviors that he preaches.”
The former Hawkeye fullback has come full circle. Others are seeking guidance and direction from him, looking at Montgomery with the same respect he exhibited toward Coach Fry.
“I love helping people and helping the community — shaping the minds of our youth with regard to life and athletics,” Montgomery said. “I want to continue to be that leader people go to for mentoring and support.”