It took a gruff FIU offensive line coach who believed in Michael Montero even though he was, at one point, just a walk-on.
It took two parents – both of whom are educators – to never give up on Montero, even when his grades got so ragged that he was booted out of Miami Columbus High for a year.
It took a lot of work from Montero - on the field and in the classroom - but the results are impressive.
Of the 13 starting centers in Conference USA, only one ranks ahead of FIU’s Michael Montero, a 6-2, 290-pound senior.
“The kid has excellent lower-body power,” said FIU offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler, who used tough love to get the best out of Montero. “He can create leverage on kids who are bigger than him because of his hip strength.
“He’s got good feet and accelerates on contact. He’s smart. He’s a leader. The kids respond to him, and he takes coaching.”
From walk-on to second-team All-Conference USA is a long climb, but that’s only half of Montero’s story. He’s also gone from academic underachiever to a student who carried a 3.5 GPA last fall and has already earned a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts.
He’s also one class away from earning a second degree, this one in Sports and Fitness.
“I’m very proud of him,” said Montero’s mother, Frances Arango, who is about to begin her 33rd year as a teacher at Miami’s Rockway Middle School. “He’s come a long way.”
Arango said Montero, whose father, Luis, is retired after having served as a Spanish teacher at Turner Tech High School, went to Doral Academy after his issues at Columbus.
“I wasn’t putting effort into school,” Montero said, “and that was my biggest setback.”
Montero’s lack of focus cost him because his mom did not allow her son to play football at Doral, hoping that his love for the sport would motivate him to take his academics more seriously.
The plan worked. Montero returned to Columbus, where he also starred in wrestling and track and field, winning a state title in the shot put as a senior.
He also returned to the Columbus football team as a senior, but because he didn’t play his junior year – when most of the top recruits commit to colleges – Montero was behind athletically. He was also behind academically.
Due to those circumstances, Montero’s best option was to walk on at FIU, where he soon began working with Shankweiler. Arango said she was surprised when she heard how tough the coaching was, but her son put her at ease.
“He said, ‘Mom, this is how it is’,” Arango said.
Montero’s faith in Shankweiler proved justified – but only after he started believing in himself.
“He didn’t play a lot in high school, and he probably didn’t have a high image of himself,” Shankweiler said. “I tried to make him our starting center two years ago, and he spit the bit. Finally (after the previous center graduated, Montero) had to do it; and he had a lot of success.
“Now his confidence level is pretty high.”
Montero leads a veteran FIU offensive line that has eight players with at least some starting experience.
Arango said her son doesn’t smoke, drink, party or eat anything except healthy food. Montero’s turnaround has been so complete that last month he was one of 88 college football players named to the Wuerffel Trophy Watch List, honoring community service.
Montero’s hard work hasn’t escaped his teammates’ notice.
“The second I stepped on campus I knew he was the guy I wanted to look up to and be as good as,” said FIU’s backup center, sophomore Neil Mars.
“It’s incredible the way he moves. We watch a lot of pro tape, and we see Mikie do the same things.”