Signing day came and went for Kapolei’s Marquis Montgomery in 2018. A big-time college football offer just wasn’t in the cards for him at the time.

Five years later, which included a church mission and two junior colleges, the wide receiver became one of the most coveted JUCO prospects in the country.

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With over 30 FBS scholarship offers and a listed final five of California, LSU, Oregon, Penn State and Texas A&M, Montgomery signed with Cal on Wednesday.

Montgomery, who was born in Virginia and raised in Tacoma, Wash., moved to Oahu as a high schooler. Despite being new to the islands at the time, he already had relatives on the islands and is half Samoan.

“Being Samoan, being of the Polynesian culture, it’s definitely a blessing in my life,” Montgomery told KHON2. “Definitely a lot of love I’ve received from my family and something I can say I’m proud to be. I don’t really speak or understand the language that well but I’m really grateful and blessed to be a part of the Samoan culture and heritage and being in Hawaii and graduating from Kapolei, there was definitely a lot of Polynesians all over the place so I felt a lot of love and felt like I was in a family with the people of Hawaii and I really enjoyed being in the environment.”

Montgomery was a receiver on Kapolei’s varsity team in 2016 and 2017. His two-year totals were modest: Eight receptions for 124 yards and a touchdown, according to Hawaii Prep World. He caught four passes each year.

High school ball isn’t always a meritocracy, and Montgomery believes he could have done more if he were given the chance.

“Those were definitely some growing days. I wasn’t really the player that I developed into right now,” Montgomery said. “I feel like I was kind of overlooked a lot, didn’t really feel like I received a lot of opportunities to showcase my skills but I feel like everything happens for a reason and that helped me grow as a player physically, mentally and emotionally. It helped me continue to work harder to prove myself.

“I was one of the tallest kids in my school, not physically big, but one of the tallest kids. I feel like I had an edge over the players, the opponents we would go against.”

Photo courtesy Marquis Montgomery

No scholarship offers came Montgomery’s way in high school. His only college look was an opportunity to join Boise State as a walk-on and he almost did so, but he ultimately decided to serve a two-year mission in Houston with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“It definitely helped me grow closer to my heavenly father. It helped me to really understand what’s important for me, get my priorities straight,” Montgomery recalled. “During that time period, I definitely developed into the physical frame that I’m in now. I definitely think going on that mission was a blessing in my life.”

Following his mission, Montgomery enrolled at Independence Community College in Kansas, made famous by Netflix’s “Last Chance U.” He played sparingly there.

“At the end of that semester, I ended up having an exit interview with my receiver coach. He basically just told me that I wasn’t good enough to play there, that I should look into playing for a Division II school or NAIA to showcase my talent there. I just felt like I was better than that,” Montgomery said. “I’m going to play at the highest level that I’ve always dreamt of playing my whole life. I ended up reaching out to a bunch of junior colleges, asking if any of them would give me an opportunity.”

After spending the year at Independence, Snow College in Utah became Montgomery’s true last chance school. He capitalized on the opportunity, hauling in 23 passes for 329 yards and six total touchdowns in a run-heavy offense.

All the while, he took the time to mature into his tantalizing 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame by figuring out how to offset his high metabolism by “working out a lot and taking protein.”

Five years ago, Montgomery was overshadowed by an extensive list of bona fide college prospects that he was teammates with at Kapolei: Taulia Tagovailoa, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, Peni Naulu, Treven Ma’ae, Kukea Emmsley, Bam Amina, Leonard Lee, Sonny Semeatu, Aaron Faumui, Julius Buelow and Tamatoa and Titus Mokiao-Atimalala, among others.

To place Montgomery among those names during his Kapolei days would’ve made him incredulous.

“I wouldn’t have believed you,” he said. “Just looking at myself in the mirror, seeing where I was at five years ago, physically, mentally, I would’ve said, ‘I don’t think that’s possible.’”

But heading into JUCO ball, Montgomery knew his recruitment process was going to blossom eventually. In the end, he chose Cal over 12 other Power Five offers.

“I would have definitely believed that was going to happen. Right when I started junior college, I just had the mindset that I’m going to achieve this, I’m going to receive Division I scholarships, get the opportunity to go play at the level I want to play in,” Montgomery said. “I just felt like if I kept telling myself that, it was going to happen. But I also had to put in the work for that.”

Montgomery during his official visit to Cal last weekend (Photo courtesy Marquis Montgomery).

Montgomery chose Cal after developing a relationship with receivers coach Burt Toler III. He also cited Cal’s prestigious academics and new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital. During his recruitment, Montgomery was told the Bears plan to throw the ball often and spread out the field, with his size serving as a mismatch and advantage against opposing defensive backs.

This fall, Montgomery will be listed as a junior on Cal’s roster and also has a redshirt year available due to the NCAA extending eligibility stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although Montgomery’s football career is not done yet, he already took it further than many others would’ve imagined.

“I think they would definitely be surprised,” said a smiling Montgomery when asked if any former Kapolei teammates were aware of the prospect he became.

For the last five years, signing day had passed Montgomery by. Although he put pen to paper on Wednesday, he understands there’s countless kids across the country who didn’t get to do so.

His message to them? Keep going.

“Just trust in the process and believe in your talents, believe in your skills. Just continue to work hard. I know this sounds cliché, but anything is possible if you put your mind to it and that’s what I focus on, too,” Montgomery said. “I knew that this was a possible goal that I could achieve. I just put my mind to it and put my head down and went to work and achieved it. Me being a religious person, also believing that God was always going to be there to help me out and always being able to have him centered in my life and always having those daily conversations helped me develop into the person that I am today to just trust him and trust that everything was going to work out.

“It’s a crazy experience. I never thought this would ever happen but it’s definitely something I knew would happen. I just believed in God and believed in the process and I’m starting the see the fruits of my labor.

“Just continue to believe in yourself. Believe that you can do anything and that’s the mindset I had and now I’m living my dream.”