They were dreamers back then, dreamers who never went anywhere without a football in their hands.
They tossed it back and forth as they walked to the store as passers-by hollered for them to get out of the street. They ran routes on the way home from practice, and when an errant pass hit a parked car, they started running, not wanting to get in trouble for an innocent mistake.
David Montgomery and his best friend, Jordan Dailey, also kept a football in their bedroom, the one they shared after Montgomery moved in with Dailey’s family early in his high school career.
They covered their walls with pictures of football players. Barry Sanders. Julio Jones. Zeke Elliott. Sammy Watkins. Walter Payton. Calvin Johnson.
And two air mattresses took up most of the floor.
Dailey slept on the queen size mattress, Montgomery the twin, and the two spent time talking football, watching cooking shows and planning their future.
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Both longed to make it to the NFL. Montgomery was a dual-threat quarterback in high school whose best attribute was his feet. Dailey, a year younger, was his top receiver.
Both also loved to cook. They watched the Food Network for ideas and practiced recipes with Ramen noodles. They binged “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” with Guy Fieri; “Chopped,” the reality show that pitted chefs against each other; and “Cutthroat Kitchen,” another cooking competition.
Football and food were escapes from reality for Montgomery and Dailey and their hard life in Mount Healthy, Ohio, on the outskirts of Cincinnati.
Until she married Montgomery’s stepfather, Montgomery’s mother, Roberta, raised five children alone while moving around town. Montgomery said he never knew his biological father. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, one of Montgomery’s brothers was jailed for murder from a drug deal gone wrong. And when times got tough, the family used water from a nearby gas station to bathe.
One day, laying on their air mattresses, watching cooking shows and bouncing names off each other for the restaurant they dreamed of owning, they made a pact that 10 years later seems almost surreal: If you make it to the NFL, I’ll be yours personal chef, they agreed, and if I make it, you’ll be mine.
“Every kid that plays football growing up says, ‘Hey, this is the way I can feed my family, this is the way I’m going to do it,'” Dailey said. “We looked at a way (cooking) as another path to greatness, so it was like we couldn’t make it (one way), we had to make it (the other) and there was nothing else to do. There was only a plan A and a plan B, there was no C, so we had to do what we could to get the first two.”
‘Reach your hand back’
Football was always Plan A for Montgomery, who is expected to share duties in the Detroit Lions backfield with rookie first-round pick Jahmyr Gibbs this fall.
Lightly recruited out of Mount Healthy High despite rushing for 6,666 yards and 91 touchdowns in his four-year career, Montgomery signed with Iowa State, the only Division I school to offer him a scholarship. He started four games for the Cyclones as a true freshman, led the nation with 109 forced tackles as a sophomore and declared early for the NFL after his All-American junior year.
After the Chicago Bears took him in the third round of the 2019 draft, Montgomery fulfilled his high school promise and hired Dailey, whose football career ended in high school, as his personal chef.
Montgomery and Dailey first met as peewee football players at the Hilltop Hawks, a top youth program in the Cincinnati area. They played on teams a year apart, but they often jumped and practiced together.
A few years later, Montgomery transferred to Dailey’s middle school, and the two formed an inseparable bond. Now they call each other brothers, and anyone who doesn’t know their history thinks it’s true.
“We look alike,” Montgomery said. “We share a lot of the same struggles, but we got a drive and a hunger, just in different areas and aspects of the world, but it’s the same.
“That’s always the main goal, to get out of it and reach your hand back, when you do that, you can pull someone else out of it so they can do the same.”
While Montgomery was at Iowa State, Dailey spent two years at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College studying to become a chef.
He began working in the school cafeteria and got his first break when former Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones hired him as head chef at his northern Kentucky restaurant, EndZone Pizza.
Dailey and Montgomery met Jones by chance in high school when Dailey was getting her hair cut at a barber near a salon that Jones frequented. Montgomery struck up a conversation with a member of Jones’ entourage outside the store, and Jones took an interest in the young football stars.
“Just seeing somebody that was in the NFL and was able to see what it looked like to be in the NFL,” Montgomery said. “It was one of those things where I was starstruck at first, but like, I could be there. It was great to meet him. He was super cool when I met him. He’s misunderstood. He’s really a cool cat.”
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While Jones’ success gave Montgomery something to strive for, Dailey was the one he was able to strive with.
The two pushed each other when times got tough and held each other accountable to their dreams.
“It was really easy for me to have a drive and a reason why I want to just because of the situation I was in and everything I came from and came out of,” Montgomery said. “It was easy for me to be like, ‘Cool,’ like, ‘I don’t want to live like this for the rest of my life.’ So I made a promise back to myself that I was going to get out of my situation and if I didn’t, I had no one to blame but myself.
“The fact that we’re together was probably the main reason I was able to do it, just because you go through those times of uncertainty and question marks if you’re confident enough to do it and he wanted to be a reassurance to me. When you go through it and while you’re in it, it’s like, ‘Damn, this (expletive) sucks, but it is what it is.’
Montgomery rushed for 3,609 yards and 26 touchdowns in four seasons with the Bears before signing a three-year, $18 million deal with the Lions this offseason.
He is one of five backs to top 200 carries each of the past four seasons, and he credits his diet and attention to nutrition as a big reason for his durability.
Dailey, who also worked as a private chef for Bears receiver Darnell Mooney in Chicago and hosted events for Andy Dalton and various position groups of Bears players, Montgomery maintains a strict diet of about 2,500 calories a day during the season and 3,000 calories a day in training camp.
Montgomery’s go-to meals include a chickpea salad with cucumbers and lemon, garlic chicken and salmon.
“It’s important to know the body,” Montgomery said during a break from performing at two local pizza restaurants last week. “When you’re breaking tackles, you’re pulling yourself out of weird, awkward positions, so you’ve got to make sure I’m stretched, I’m elastic, and I’m eating the right things to fuel the movements. I generate a lots of energy when I move the way I do. Yes, nutrition and diet is really important. Like I’m on a diet right now. It’s hard for me to eat pizza. They try to get me to take bites, I try to take a small bite.”
Montgomery said he is healthy after missing the last two weeks of the Lions’ formal offseason program with a minor ankle injury. “Just a little maintenance,” he said.
He will be ready for the start of training camp next month, and when he hits the field, he should give the Lions one of the best backfields in the NFL.
Although he has only had one 100-yard game since going for 106 yards and two touchdowns against the Lions in Week 4 of the 2021 season, Montgomery ran for 801 yards last year and ranked among the NFL leaders in broken tackle percentage (18.4% ), according to Rotowire.
Gibbs, the 12th overall pick in the first round, was a dynamic dual-threat weapon in college who adds a quick receiving element to an offense that Montgomery calls the most powerful he’s ever been a part of.
“I think me and Jah will be electric together,” Montgomery said. “He’s already like an electric player. I don’t mind going in there and getting the (hard) yards, but I also see myself as a big asset. So putting the two of us together and the defense has to prepare for both of us, that will be difficult to do.”
‘Do it our way’
Montgomery and Dailey recently watched “Shooting Stars,” the movie about NBA star LeBron James. James was close to a small group of high school teammates, and as he’s built his empire outside of basketball, he’s helped some of his friends achieve their dreams.
“We watched that and every other scene, we looked at each other and smiled like, man, that’s right, and it’s so cool that they were able to capture it on film and have a story about them, and it got us just to feel our story isn’t done yet and there’s so much more for us to do,” Dailey said.
That includes owning the restaurant Montgomery and Dailey talked about years ago.
It will be a hole in the wall somewhere, with home cooked food and enough character to make everyone feel welcome. Montgomery, who likes to cook chicken alfredo, lamb chops and steak, has told People that he might even want to go to culinary school one day.
But that’s along the way. For now there are more pressing matters at hand.
Montgomery, who became a father for the first time earlier this year, has plenty of goals he wants to accomplish on the field, though he said he doesn’t want to share them publicly.
Whatever they are, he’s impressed teammates in his pursuit of them in the three short months they’ve been together.
Lions left tackle Taylor Decker called him “responsible, disciplined, professional” and said he has “a productive paranoia” about how he goes about business every day.
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“Always trying to find a way to get better,” Decker said. “That’s what I’ve heard from a coach that I know was in Chicago. So does it surprise me that we signed a guy like that? No, it sounds like personality wise and mindset, he’s the cookie cutter for that , we want here.”
None of that surprises Dailey, who lived with Montgomery after moving to Detroit in the offseason and said Montgomery’s first order of business with the Lions is “to prove to people that he is who they think he is, or that he’s better than who they think he is. is”—as the two have done together their entire lives.
“We’re doing it our way, the way we said we were going to do it,” Montgomery said. “We said we’d help each other and we need each other for each of us to (succeed). That’s the funny thing. It’s like ying and yang, you need the other for the other to occupation.”