Recreational baseball is supposed to be a fun experience for kids to learn how to play the game of baseball with their friends.  One day, during Seckinger standout JoJo Montgomery’s first season of recreational baseball, JoJo didn’t find himself in the starting lineup. 

 JoJo looked at his dad Joe Montgomery and began to cry.  

“I promise you if you put the work in,” Joe said to his son. “No one would look past you again.” 

JoJo hasn’t been on the bench much since then as the Villanova signee has turned into one of the best players in the state, and one of the best players in Seckinger’s brief history.

Seckinger students graduated Wednesday, May 22, marking the end of JoJo Montgomery’s high school career. He now passes the infield duties to Jin Kasuya, committed to South Carolina

Runs in the Montgomery family

Athletic success is synonymous with the Montgomery name. JoJo’s father, Joe, starred at Ohio State University from 1996-98 as a running back. JoJo’s sister, Jade Montgomery, plays softball at the University of  Pennsylvania.

Following a tumultuous freshman year during which his dad was laid off work, and his mother suffered a heart attack, Joe showed flashes of a bright future.  In the 1996 season that culminated in a thrilling 20-17 Rose Bowl victory over Arizona State, Joe rushed for 460 total yards and two touchdowns. 

The following season, Joe would face adversity once again as he would endure a nearly catastrophic knee injury. He tore nearly every ligament and doctors said he wouldn’t play again.

After a breakout 1998 season in which Montgomery appeared in 11 games and rushed for nearly 700 yards and six touchdowns. The Chicago native popped up on the NFL radar despite undergoing 13 surgeries while at Ohio State. Joe was drafted in the second round of the 1999 NFL Draft, 49th overall, by the New York Giants.

 From the outside looking in, it may seem hard to believe that a young man that grew up poor in Chicago could reach the NFL, but Joe always believed that he would be successful. 

“I never had doubt because through Christ all things are possible,” Joe said. “When I was about seven years old, my mom asked me what I was doing at the kitchen table, and I told her I was practicing my signature, because it was gonna be worth money someday. With that being said, my belief and faith in God borders on insanity.”

Despite having his career cut short due to injury after three seasons, playing for two teams, and being forced to retire at age 26, Joe experienced the pinnacle of the sport, the Super Bowl. Joe played in Super Bowl 35 for the Giants against the legendary 2000 Ravens defense. 

“Playing in the Super Bowl was a dream come true. It was an unbelievable experience that a kid from the projects of Chicago, had the privilege to play in that game after only my second year in the NFL,” Joe said. “ I had a teammate that had played in the NFL for 17 years, and it was his first time going.”

Fatherhood through baseball

Now as a father, Joe uses his experience and battles with adversity to help guide JoJo and his daughter Jade through life and athletics. 

“One of the biggest things and first things I have taught both kids was that faith in God and hard-work, there’s nothing that you can’t accomplish,” Joe said. “No excuses. It’s not like they don’t have all the tools.  So keep hunting.”

Montgomery watched with pride as Seckinger made their way into the playoffs this season. 

“Seckinger’s playoff run was awesome. I was pretty worried in the beginning,” Joe said. “The more ball those boys played you started to see their belief in themselves as well as their teammates.  It is not shocking to me JoJo had the year he had.  JoJo’s projectability is through the roof.  I’m really excited for him to write his next chapter.”

Seckinger’s star

Every season is a journey with highs and lows. The teams that survive and come together for one another have success. The 2024 Seckinger baseball season was a wild ride.. After a pedestrian 1-7 start, the Jaguars engineered a historic turnaround amassing an 11-1 subregion record, due in large part to the contributions of senior third baseman JoJo Montgomery and junior shortstop Jin Kasuya. 

In year two of the program, Seckinger made their playoff debut as the two seed, and emerged victorious in their first playoff series in program history beating Pace Academy in three games. 

Kasuya said “It’s amazing being a part of firsts.  You create the traditions and values of starting something up and that builds a different type of connection.” 

The Jaguars ended the season with a 17-16 overall record. In the middle of the order, Montgomery was the catalyst for the Seckinger offense for much of the season. JoJo compiled an absurd .510 batting average with five homers and 22 RBIs on his way to Region 8-AAAA Offensive Player of the Year and All County honors.

“(JoJo’s) improvement from his first season at Seckinger to year two was amazing,” Seckinger head coach Justin Bishop said. “But that is a testament to his work ethic and desire for excellence.  He was a consistent force in the middle of our order and never really had a ‘down’ period of time” 

Bishop mentioned the growth he saw during Montgomery’s senior season as a vocal leader, and praised his ability to lead by example.

Kasuya’s time

Looking forward to next season, the cupboard is not bare for Seckinger head coach, Justin Bishop, as the Jaguars will look to build on their sweet 16 appearance this season. After the departure of seven seniors in 2024, the Jaguars will be anchored by Kasuya, a rising senior shortstop. 

The South Carolina commit is known for defensive prowess and produced in the leadoff role for the Jaguars in 2024, following the departure of Seckinger’s first Division I baseball signee in their history, Malachi Jefferies. Kasuya earned First Team All-Region honors with a .356 average with two home runs and 17 RBI. 

In terms of a player comparison, Kasuya offered up New York Yankees star shortstop, Anthony Volpe.

“I feel like we possess very similar qualities at the same position with our glove and bat,” Kasuya said.

Bishop gave Kasuya the best compliment any player can receive. 

“Simply put, Jin is everything you want in a high school baseball player that you want to lead your team,” Bishop said. “Jin is an amazing young man. He’s a better person than he is a player. He leads our program, he is an excellent commentator, he has a high level work ethic, and he plays the game the right way.” 

Next season, Kasuya is ready to carry the torch for the Seckinger baseball program and continue building the foundation. Kasuya said he is going to “keep working hard and continue being a leader for the guys along with me.” 

After missing half of his sophomore season due to a left shoulder labrum injury, Kasuya came back this season with a deeper appreciation for the game. 

“Being sidelined made me realize how grateful we really should be for the things we have,” Kasuya said. “I really valued staying in the moment this year and taking everything step by step, not getting ahead of myself.” 

FEATURED PHOTO: Courtesy of Yini Kasuya

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