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Name recognition

Oaks Christian High's football team includes the sons of an NFL great, a hockey legend and a box-office star.

July 11, 2008|Eric Sondheimer | Times Staff Writer
  • Oaks Christian High's football team lists Nick Montana, Trevor Gretzky and Trey Smith.
Oaks Christian High's football team lists Nick Montana, Trevor Gretzky… (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)

It isn't every high school football team whose quarterback is the son of a Hall of Famer. What sets Oaks Christian apart is that, starting this fall, it will have two.

Nick Montana, meet Trevor Gretzky.

Nick, the son of NFL great Joe Montana, is transferring to the Westlake Village school for his junior year and could eventually have competition for the quarterback spot from Trevor, a sophomore who is the son of hockey's Wayne Gretzky.

To say that Nick and Trevor are the sons of Hall of Famers is a little like saying that Trey Smith, a sophomore receiver on the Oaks team, is the son of an actor.

That's true as far as it goes. Trey is the son of Will Smith, one of the highest-grossing movie stars of his generation. When the elder Montana and Gretzky were playing, each was considered the dominant player of his era in his sport, and among the greatest ever.

All this is likely to make Oaks Christian football games a leading stop on the paparazzi circuit.

"It's Celebrity High," said Steve Clarkson, who provides private training for quarterbacks.

This is, of course, L.A., where children of celebrities are hardly a rarity. Not long ago, Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino had an outfielder by the name of Nicolai Bonds, son of all-time home run king Barry Bonds. And how many school plays have been graced (or not) by the offspring of Oscar winners?

Oaks Christian, which opened in 2000 and has a tuition of $21,640, has emphasized both academics and athletics to attract the sons and daughters of the rich and famous. As it expands its enrollment from 750 to 1,000 in the next couple of years, it is expected to become even more of an athletic powerhouse.

The football team in particular has become a dominant program, having won five consecutive Southern Section championships and six overall. The arrival this week of Nick Montana from De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., is expected to help the Lions fill their one void for the coming season: a competent passer.

It means Oaks Christian is expected to have a serious chance to go 14-0 and earn a berth in a state championship bowl game.

The 6-foot-2 Nick Montana resembles his father, with blond hair, a distinctive chin and a similar throwing motion.

"He's identical to his dad," Clarkson said. "If you saw him play, you'd swear it's Joe."

Nick, quarterback last season for De La Salle's junior varsity team, attended his first Oaks practice Tuesday and left little doubt that he has the talent to be a major college recruit, with a strong arm and good mobility.

"It was good," Nick said of his first practice session. "I was getting used to the offense, but I liked what I saw."

He said his family decided to move to Southern California because his father has business interests in the area. It helped that Oaks Christian is the alma mater of Jimmy Clausen, a sophomore at Notre Dame who was considered the No. 1 high school quarterback in the U.S. in 2006.

As for the pressure of following a father who quarterbacked the San Francisco 49ers to four Super Bowl victories, Nick said, "I don't let it bother me that much."

Said Joe Montana: "He just needed an opportunity to be in an offense like this. It will be a test for him. He's excited."

Nick's teammates will include Trey Smith, whose father is the star of the current top-grossing movie in the country, "Hancock," and Trevor Gretzky, who can add stories about how many times his father has been asked for autographs at restaurants from starry-eyed hockey fans.

So much star power at a single high school may draw attention, but it also can disperse it.

Last fall, when actor Tom Cruise decided to show up for an Oaks Christian game to join his good friend Will Smith, "Everybody was watching the stands instead of the game," Coach Bill Redell said.

When word got out in Lompoc that Smith was watching his son play for the junior varsity team, he was mobbed by autograph seekers who were so focused that they overlooked Wayne Gretzky standing nearby.

"It's nice for me when Will shows up for a game," Gretzky said.

Nick Montana's arrival has accelerated an exodus of quarterbacks from Oaks Christian. The school started the summer with six players competing for the starting spot, but half have left.

Trevor Gretzky was moved to the junior varsity team to play quarterback, along with sophomore Jaloni Williams, a transfer from Sierra Canyon in Chatsworth.

Senior Tony Macarena, a transfer from St. Bonaventure in Ventura, is the one quarterback left to compete with Montana for the varsity job.

"Right now, Macarena is the starter, but we're going to play the best guy," offensive coordinator Mark Bates said.

Wayne Gretzky was at practice Wednesday and seemed excited to have a Montana around.

"It's great that Joe's son has come to the school," he said.

Bates insists that coaching the sons of celebrities isn't going to be any different from working with other players.

"I'm not coaching the dads," he said. "I'm coaching the kids, and they're good kids. I think it's a bigger deal for people who aren't at the school. After a day or two, they're regular kids."

Except to the paparazzi.

--

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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