RBR Hall of Fame member, NFL punter dies after struggle with mental illness

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The life of one of the finest athletes to ever come out of Red Bank Regional High School will be celebrated on Oct. 24.

Gregory H. Montgomery Jr., 55, who played college football at Michigan State University and went on to a nine-year professional career in the National Football League, died on Aug. 23 in Michigan.

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According to an obituary posted by Metcalf and Jonkhoff Funeral Service, Grand Rapids, Mich., Montgomery succumbed to mental illness, which he had battled for many years. The former pro athlete had shared his struggle with bipolar disorder to help stop the stigma surrounding mental illness, according to the obituary.

Montgomery’s life will be celebrated from 2-5 p.m. Oct. 24 at Fox Hill, 62 Crest Drive, Little Silver.

Montgomery, the son of Gregory and Diane Montgomery, was raised in Little Silver and Shrewsbury. His first love was hockey and he also excelled in football, baseball, soccer and golf, according to his obituary.

At Red Bank Regional, Montgomery was a two-sport varsity athlete; he pitched for the Bucs’ baseball team, and he was a middle linebacker on the football team who, because of an injury, became a punter and kicker.

It was in football where Montgomery would make his mark on the collegiate and professional levels.

Montgomery received a football scholarship to Penn State University. According to his obituary, he was the first punter to receive a full scholarship to Penn State under Coach Joe Paterno.

After one season at Penn State, Montgomery transferred to his father’s alma mater, Michigan State.

As a Spartan, Montgomery was named All-American twice, All-Big 10 three times, and eventually the All-Time Best Punter in Michigan State history.

He played for the Spartans with his brother, Steve; recorded an 86-yard punt; and was the holder for the winning field goal in Michigan State’s 20-17 victory over the University of Southern California in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 1988.

Montgomery became a professional football player when he was drafted by the Houston Oilers in the third round (No. 72 overall) of the 1988 NFL draft and signed a contract with the team.

He played for the Oilers for six seasons (1988-93) and later with the Detroit Lions (1994) and the Baltimore Ravens (1996-97). He was named All-Pro and played in the 1994 Pro Bowl.

In a nine-year career, Montgomery punted 524 times and averaged 43.6 yards per punt. The NFL Players Association recognized Montgomery twice for its Mackey Award as the leading punter in the American Football Conference.

According to his obituary, after retiring as a player, Montgomery enjoyed coaching punters from the high school level to the NFL level. He coached at Michigan State and helped Coach Nick Saban’s players at Louisiana State University and at the University of Alabama.

Saban was the defensive coach at Michigan State when Montgomery played for the Spartans and the two formed a friendship that endured over the ensuing decades.

The Atlantic Hub reached out to Saban, who is the head coach at Alabama, on Sept. 4 and the Crimson Tide coach responded by saying, “Greg was a wonderful player for us at Michigan State and someone we then drafted while I was with the Houston Oilers.

“We had a wonderful friendship for many years. Greg would come back and work our kicking camps year after year.

“He was a fantastic teacher and someone who really connected with the kids. He is easily one of the best punters on any team I have ever coached and a great guy. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Greg’s family, friends and teammates,” Saban said.

Among the honors Montgomery received was being inducted into the Red Bank Regional High School Hall of Fame.

The Gregory H. Montgomery Jr. Foundation for Ultimate Growth has been established to help spread awareness, education and resources for individuals who are conflicted with the complexities of achieving proper mental health and wellness, and those who love them.

Memorial donations may be made at the Go Fund Me account that has been created in Montgomery’s name, The Gregory H. Montgomery Jr. Foundation, or mailed to The Gregory H. Montgomery Jr. Foundation, care of Margot Moran, 5899 Fountain Drive, Naples, FL 34119.

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