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John Montes: Playing both sides of a rivalry

Junior infielder John Montes has become a staple to the USF lineup after transferring from rival school UCF. ORACLE PHOTO/CARLEIGH BENEDICT

Rivalries run deep in college athletics, but for junior infielder John Montes, they mean a little more.

Starting Friday, South Florida baseball will hit the road to play its first conference matchup of the season against formidable foe Central Florida – where Montes played before coming to USF in the fall of 2022.

When it came to playing in the rivalry the last two years, Montes’ feelings were almost Jekyll and Hyde.

“I always liked the kids, I like a rivalry. I can have a best friend but when I play against him in the field, he’s my enemy, so I thought of the Bulls as my enemy,” Montes said.

“Off the field, I have a lot of friends that played here against me, like Nelly [junior catcher Nelson Rivera] he’s one of my best friends. We actually played together and then a couple of years ago, we played against each other and I hated him at the field but I loved him outside the field.”

In 2021, Montes joined the Knights baseball program and participated in 54 of their 61 games. As a freshman, he ended up starting 44 matches and recording a .275 batting average along with 29 RBI, 10 doubles and three homers.

However, his time contributed changed his sophomore year, only participating in 21 of 60 games and just four starts in 2022. He also totaled a .182 average and one RBI.

His drop in playing time ended up being one of the deciding factors of him entering the transfer portal. Once he entered the portal, he had one particular school in mind.

“I started thinking about USF last year. I entered the transfer portal last year and then the school that I wanted to call home the most was USF. I had other offers but I want to go here,” Montes said.

After committing to South Florida, going from one school to another wasn’t an easy jump. Montes would be leaving a place he called home for two years and where he gained life experiences and important relationships.

Montes said he still loved Central Florida and everything the school gave him during his time there.

“I liked it over there. I met my girlfriend over there and it was also the beginning of my college experience over there. I learned a lot and grew a lot from being there,” Montes said.

But USF ended up being the best decision for him, even if it was weird at first, Montes said.

“It was hard, obviously moving apart from everything. New teammates and whatnot, but I’m here to play baseball to finish my studies and I think it was for the best honestly,” he said.

“It was a weird feeling, obviously, because I’m in a new place. It felt like the day I moved from Puerto Rico to the United States. A lot of new faces, but they were here and they received me with open hands.”

Montes currently leads the team in batting average with a .333. ORACLE PHOTO/CARLEIGH BENEDICT

Ever since joining USF baseball, the infielder has made his mark on the program.

Over the course of 26 games, Montes has played in 25 matches making 24 starts. In that time, he has recorded a .333 average with 19 RBI, eight doubles and six home runs. He has also consistently been named at the top of the batting order in the past couple of weeks.

A smooth transition from UCF to USF with the help of his coaches is what molded Montes into the player he is right now.

“I think this program is just one of the best out there. The players that come out of here, It’s one of the best. The coach and the coaching staff, I love them,” Montes said.

“I’ve learned a lot. I’ve gained more experience and personally I’m more positive here and I think this is the right spot for me.”

Coaches tend to play a prominent role in ensuring their players are happy where they are.

Bulls coach Billy Mohl has played a key role in Montes’ transition and the staff behind him as well.

“Billy Mohl was the guy that always held my hand in coming here. He wanted me to come here and he was the guy that I gave props to helping me,” Montes said.

“I like that they’re very open minded and they understand the player. They’re more understanding about the person of the player instead of the player, not seeing us as objects. They all played, so that plays a big role. I think they’re probably the best coaching staff I’ve ever played with.”

Now for the Bulls 27th game, the team will travel across I-4 to take on the Knights for the first conference series of the 2023 campaign.

This will be the first time Montes will step back onto the field of UCF, but this time in green and gold.

Montes said there is more excitement than nerves going into the matchup.

“I’m excited. It’s gonna be weird, for sure, but I’m excited by this. At the same time, it’s another game of baseball. Just play to win and play hard and whatever happens, happens,” Montes said.

The homecoming of Montes not only brings an interesting battle between past teammates, but seeing his family once again.

“I’m not nervous about anything. I’m just excited to play. My mom is going to be at the game too. So I’m excited to see her too. I haven’t seen her in a while. I’m just excited to play in front of my family. That’s the biggest part about this weekend.”

With the start of the series just moments away for the Bulls, there is just one thing on Montes’ mind.

“To win. That’s my biggest goal to win and just have a good all-around series.”