Fast Company: Coach Devon Montgomery Sets a High Bar

Friday, March 22, 2024
Devon Montgomery hurdles
Devon Montgomery was a very good track athlete as a student at Southern Utah University (pictured), and he has continued to get better as a hurdler while helping Viterbo athletes get better as assistant track coach in charge of hurdles, sprints, and strength training. He's ranked 12th in the nation in the indoor 60-meter hurdles.

Seven members of Viterbo University’s track and field team will take part in Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays, which runs March 27–30 in Austin. The event, started in 1925, is the nation’s second largest track meet, drawing some 5,000 athletes, and the competition is fierce.

Devon Montgomery
Devon Montgomery

“It’s going to be a shock to the system for our athletes, competing at this level,” said Devon Montgomery, the team’s assistant coach in charge of hurdles, sprints and strength training. “Our goal in going to the Texas Relays is to get them around fast people so they push themselves to their limits.”

Viterbo’s track and field athletes actually have been in the constant company of a very fast person for the past three years who always pushes them to their limits. Yup, it’s Devon Montgomery himself.

Montgomery’s trip to the Texas Relays this year, his fourth, will be as both coach and competitor. He’ll compete in the 110-meter hurdles event in the invitational division, his strongest event, coming off a 12th-place finish in the 60-meter hurdles at February’s USA Track & Field indoor national championship event in Albuquerque, N.M.

At the USATF indoor nationals, Montgomery came within a hundredth of a second of his best time in his 60-meter hurdles heat. Practically everybody who finished ahead of him in his heat had sponsorship deals and train in top-flight facilities, including Grant Holloway, who set a world record with his 7.27 time.

Montgomery’s performance at the indoor championships gave him a 12th place national ranking, and he’s now looking forward to competing at the U.S. Olympic trials, which run June 21–30 in Oregon. “Before this year, going to the Olympic trials wasn’t a thought,” said Montgomery, who leads workout classes at Burn Boot Camp three or four mornings a week before coming to campus in time to have lunch with team members. “I’m just running to see what I can do. My philosophy is if you can, you should.”

Devon Montgomery coaching
Montgomery offers athletes encouragement during a warmup exercise during a practice session at Jumpstart Adventure Park, where the track team and other Viterbo teams hold indoor practices.

Montgomery sets a high bar as an example for the members of Viterbo’s track team, said head track coach Kody Michaels. “His success on the track helps our team in so many ways as our athletes see how hard he works, which motivates our program as a whole even more,” he said. “Devon’s coaching style is extremely transparent. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything, which makes you respect what he has to say even more and really helps you understand how knowledgeable he is within our sport and all areas of athletics.”

Growing up in a military family, Montgomery moved a lot and was mostly homeschooled. He didn’t get involved in organized sports until he began high school in Nevada, and he didn’t compete in track until his junior year. In the span of his first season, he cut his time in the 110-meter hurdles from 17 to 15.2 and won a state championship in the event.

Montgomery had an impressive Division I collegiate career as a hurdler at Southern Utah University, where he graduated in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in physical education teaching and coaching.

Devon Montgomery and Jalen Anderson
Viterbo University assistant track coach Devon Montgomery talks with Jalen Anderson during a practice session in preparation for the trip to the Texas Relays.

When Montgomery joined the Viterbo coaching roster in March 2021 when the track and field program was revving back up after a pandemic lull, he made an immediate difference, said hurdler/sprinter Jalen Anderson.

“Right away he hit us hard, which was good. We needed it,” said Anderson, who competed in three events at the NAIA indoor championship event in early March. “A lot of it was workouts that high-level programs would be doing, and it’s made a massive impact on our team.”

The fact that Montgomery worked so hard at his own training, using the same facilities as the team members and competing at a high level, set an example for the team members. “He makes us want to work hard, just seeing what he does,” said Anderson, who is working on his MBA and was named Viterbo’s male athlete of the year last year. “He’s made me into a hurdler I never saw myself becoming. He’s taken me to the next level.”

Devon Montgomery and Ashley Veronen
Montgomery, who oversees strength training for the track and field team, greets Ashley Veronen during a session in the Viterbo weight room.

Ashley Veronen, a junior nursing major, who qualified for nationals last year as a member of the 4x100 relay team and tied the Viterbo record for the 100-meter hurdles, said Montgomery has made a huge difference.

“I think it’s an honor that we get to work with somebody who is at the top of his game in the country right now, and we get his undivided attention,” Veronen said. “He’s totally there every single day, trying to push us. I’m thankful he does because he sees the potential that we have and he wants us to work for it.”

In the past few years, the V-Hawks have had as many national qualifiers as the program had had in the previous 10 years. And the coaching staff (which also includes throws coach Justin McKnight, pole vault coach Nick Pergrande and distance coach Marcia Taddy) is determined to get more V-Hawks to the national stage.

Montgomery hopes that opening the outdoor track season at the Texas Relays will push the team’s top hurdlers and sprinters and the women’s 4x100 team to get their national qualifying times in the books early.

In addition to Anderson and Veronen, other V-Hawks who will compete at the Texas Relays include the following:

  • Claudia Schunk (100m / 4x100 Relay)
  • Braylee Hyatt (4x100 Relay)
  • Kaylee McLeod (100m)
  • Lillia Chvatal (4x100 Relay)
  • Emma Johnson (100m hurdles)

Moving to La Crosse meant Montgomery had to buy his first winter coat, but that’s been a small price to pay. “I love being here,” he said. “When I got to working with the team, I knew I made the right move. They have the same trust in me that I have in them. Trust is the reason I can do what I’m doing.”

Devon Montgomery and Jalen Anderson
Coach Devon Montgomery is pictured with Jalen Anderson at the NSAA conference championship meet, where Anderson was honored as Male Track Athlete of the Meet and NSAA Overall Male Athlete MVP. Anderson won the 60-meter and 200-meter dash events and the 60-meter hurdles, qualifying for the indoor nationals in all three events. Anderson has his first chance to qualify for the outdoor nationals at the Texas Relays.