Brett Martel / Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS -- Not long after Nick Montana pulled off his helmet, he was approached by fans who'd descended from the stands after Tulane's recent spring game, hoping to meet the new quarterback with the famous last name and familiar face.
"You look like your dad," one said, and Montana produced a polite smile and nodded, as if he'd heard that countless times before.
He signed his name to a white-and-green Tulane jersey worn by a young boy. An adult fan then pulled out a couple of Joe Montana football cards, asking for signatures on those as well. Again, the son of the Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback obliged.
Montana understands the source of the adulation and tries to handle it gracefully. Still, he feels he hasn't really earned it and doesn't seem entirely comfortable with the expectations that come with being the son of a four-time Super Bowl winner -- and playing the same position.
"I've lived with it my whole life. I'm used to it," Montana said. "I tend to think people make a bigger deal about it than it is, so I just try to be a college student, playing football just like any of the other guys on the team."
The fact is, Montana still has a lot to prove at the Division I level. His first go-around at Washington didn't go so well.
After a redshirt freshman season, he was beaten out by Keith Price for the starting job in 2011, then opted to play a season in junior college near home in Southern California before giving college football's highest division another shot.
Montana chose Tulane, where he'll pursue a business degree and play home games next season in the Superdome, where his father won one of his Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers over John Elway's Denver Broncos in 1990.
Of course, the stands won't be nearly as full, or the stakes as high.
Tulane does not play in a major BCS conference and would be fortunate to crack the top 10 in the national rankings even if it went undefeated -- never mind that the Wave went 2-10 in Conference USA last season, extending a bowl drought that dates back to 2002.
Montana, however, said he believes in second-year coach Curtis Johnson, a former receivers coach with the Super Bowl-winning New Orleans Saints in 2009. Montana likes the pro-style offense at Tulane and said his priorities have changed as he's matured.
"A lot of it was, my freshman year, I came in with the wrong mentality, I guess, just loving college. So I feel like I've grown up a lot more," Montana added. "Seeing CJ, the offense he runs and the coaches he has around him, (Tulane) was a hard place to pass up."
Johnson said Montana will have to earn the starting job by beating out redshirt freshman Devin Powell in August camp.
Yet the coach added that he sought out the younger Montana because "he's a winner" with "good pedigree."
"Nick has a lot of intangibles, a lot like Joe," Johnson said. "He can escape. You saw him run around a bit, good touch passer, can move in and out of the pocket. He does some of the stuff that his dad does."
Nick Montana threw a 4-yard scoring pass in the spring game in which he rolled right and lofted a pass to Justyn Shackleford in the back of the end zone, drawing immediate comparisons, albeit lightheartedly, to his father hitting Dwight Clark for "the catch" in the 1982 NFC title game against Dallas.
"It reminds me, yeah," a laughing Johnson said of the scoring pass. "I just hope I see more of them."
Montana later showcased his mobility with a short touchdown run.
Last season at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif., Montana passed for 2,652 yards and 22 touchdowns, and his team won its first 11 games before losing in the Southern California Junior College championship.
Since Montana enrolled at Tulane in January, his new teammates have noticed his father showing up at various football functions, and they've been delighted to see the former star whose career mostly predated their births, but whose highlights they've seen in NFL Films videos.
"He's one of the best to ever play," Tulane receiver Ryan Grant said. "It's awesome to have his son here and it's awesome to see him around whenever he comes in town."
The younger Montana described his father as someone who, while proud of his past, chooses to live in the present. He never looked for excuses to regale his sons with stories of his playing days at Notre Dame or in the NFL, and never pushed his sons to play football, never mind quarterback.
"He always had a laid-back approach, so it would always have to be me asking him, `Can we go throw?"' Nick Montana said. "He's always been that way where he never tried to get involved with it unless we wanted him to."
Montana hopes to play in the NFL. In that respect, Tulane was not such a curious choice; three former Green Wave quarterbacks -- Shaun King, Patrick Ramsey and J.P. Losman -- have played in the NFL in the past 15 years.
Also, he arrives as optimism about Tulane's football future is rising. Johnson has improved the ratings of Tulane's recruiting classes. Meanwhile, a new on-campus stadium -- close to where the old Tulane Stadium hosted numerous Sugar Bowls and three Super Bowls -- is scheduled to open in 2014.
Now those who hope to see Tulane competitive again view Montana's arrival as another encouraging sign.
"He has a great personality, great character," said Grant, who caught a 17-yard pass over the middle from Montana in the spring game. "He has great form -- a nice spiral. He can throw the ball. I'm glad to have him here."