Growing up without a father is never easy. But for Sisler Spartans linebacker Easton Montour, football has provided him with invaluable levels of male guidance, as well as the confidence to succeed both on and off the field.
Living in the north end, Montour’s mother and grandmother originally registered him for football as a way to stay preoccupied from bad influences.
“I didn’t really enjoy [football] at first,” Montour says. “It was just something to do after school.”
But Montour’s minor football coaches saw his potential from a young age, and became critical assets in his life.
“I always had a strong bond with my coaches, because I didn’t have that father figure,” he says. “Usually my mom would be working by the time I had practice, so I’d need a ride, so I’d ask coaches.”
As Montour got older, his performance continued to rise. In his first year with the Spartans junior varsity team in grade nine for example, he was named as the Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Despite his accolades, Montour continued to be his own worst critic.
“Throughout the whole year, I was better and I improved obviously, but I didn’t stick out, really. I was just there,” he says. “I didn’t make any big plays, I just made tackles here and there.”
At the end of his grade nine year, Montour found another role model in Vincent Massey Winnipeg/Team Manitoba U16 head coach Kelsey McKay, who helped him with his confidence and performance as a member of the provincial team.
“I improved so much from [being on the provincial team],” he says. After that, I was contemplating going to Vincent Massey, because I’d made friends there and I really liked coach McKay. He was really nice to me.”
After contemplating his options, Montour chose to stay at Sisler for his grade 10 year. His decision paid off, as the team won the junior varsity title, despite Montour sustaining a foot injury.
It was around this time that Montour met Mitchell Harrison, a former defensive standout for the Manitoba Bisons as well as a Sisler alumnus. He had returned to his old high school as a teacher, but was also joining the staff as the defensive coordinator.
Over the next two years, Harrison became a mentor for Montour, having been in his exact shoes in the past.
“The demographic is completely the same as when I went there. You’re going to have the kids that are going to try and get you into gangs, you’re going to have the kids that are doing drugs and all that stuff. I had friends that did those sorts of things and they’re still my friends, but you have to separate yourself from them to a certain extent,” Harrison says.
“It’s about painting that line for him, that you have a future and you have to focus that a bit, and organize your priorities. And I think the fact that I went through that not too long ago made it easier for him to relate to it.”
With support from Harrison, as well as Sisler head coach Sean Esselmont, Montour continued to shine on the field.
In his grade 11 year, he was named team MVP. That winter, he also made premier training program Recruit Ready’s seven-on-seven travelling team, where he competed against some of the top high school players in the USA. Recruit Ready’s staff is comprised of a number of former elite level university athletes, as well as current and former CFL and NFL pros.
“Recruit Ready helped me a ton with playing football, and my coverage,” Montour says. “I was going into the season like yes, I am the best defensive player there is in this league. I was beyond confident.”
Montour also made Team Manitoba later that summer, and when he returned for his senior year in 2017, Harrison could tell he was more focused than ever to succeed.
“He’ll completely transition, he’s like the goofiest player you’ll meet off the field and such a fun time to be around. But then he puts his helmet on and he’s just a completely different person. You can tell that the passion and intensity is there,” he says.
“You don’t get that from a lot of high school kids, they’re just there to have fun, but he takes it very seriously, and it shows.”
Montour’s senior season was nothing short of dominant. He finished with 70.5 tackles and was honoured at years end as the AAA Defensive Player of the Year. Personally, the award meant a lot to Montour, as he had told his uncle – who he also looked to as a role model – that he was going to finish the year leading the league in tackles.
“I wanted to be first. And I did finish first the next season,” he says.
“I told [my uncle] the amount of tackles I had and he was really happy. It honestly felt really nice. I always knew that he was proud of me, but it felt good for him to actually show it.”
With his senior year coming to a close, Montour had a choice to make. He wanted to go to university, but knew that without a scholarship, that wouldn’t be an option. He was also in close conversation with the Vancouver Island Raiders of the BC junior football league, and was leaning towards heading west.
Thankfully, all through the recruiting process, Harrison was right there. It brought the duo even closer together.
“I just told him not to mislead anyone, and ultimately, to look out for himself and whatever is best for him,” Harrison says.
Ultimately, Montour was blessed with an opportunity to play for the U of M, while also gaining a scholarship for school. Not surprisingly, Bison football head coach Brian Dobie was open and transparent the whole way through.
“When I went to go meet with [Dobie] the one time, we had a long conversation,” Montour says. “He loves to talk, I love to talk and he was really straight up with me. I told him what my weaknesses were and how I feel and everything.”
When Montour starts his post-secondary journey, he won’t be embarking alone. Harrison will continue to lend him his ear in the hopes that the young star can continue to succeed just like he’s done at every level of football thus far.
“I told him there’s a group of guys that are dedicated to school and stuff like that, and you need to associate yourself with that, because otherwise it’s going to be hard to maintain the academic side,” he says.
“I also told him to reach out to me in terms of marking papers and that sort of stuff. I screwed up a lot in my first year, so I’m just trying to make sure that he doesn’t.”