Having lost three grandparents to cancer, Green Wave center Christian Montano was all in when the opportunity to become a bone marrow donor was presented to him back in 2014.
A graduate transfer from Brown University, Montano underwent a routine cheek swab as part of Be The Match, a national bone marrow registry. Then he went about the business of playing football for the Ivy League Bears in Providence, Rhode Island.
“I was in the database for three years and didn’t hear anything,” said Montano, a native of Orange, Connecticut. “Then I got a call saying I might be a match and they needed to take blood. They took blood and said, ‘Hey, you’re a match. Would you be willing to go forward?’ ” His answer was a simple yes.
He underwent a three-hour procedure at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and ultimately saved the life of Jim Calhoun, a 45-year-old Saratoga Springs, New York, resident with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a form of childhood cancer that is rare in adults.
A year later, the two met in person and now consider each other family. Calhoun plans to be in the stands cheering Montano on when the Green Wave takes on Army Oct. 5 in West Point, New York.
“We actually became united from the day of the transplant,” Montano said. “I wanted him to be healthy again, just like he was a family member I’ve always known.”
It is largely due to Montano’s own physical troubles that led him to Tulane. He redshirted his freshman year because of ulcerative colitis. And in his senior year, he broke his foot during the first quarter of the first game, forcing him to miss the entire season.
With one more year of eligibility, Montano — who had earned All-Ivy League honors as a junior and Preseason All-Ivy recognition entering his senior season — wanted to transfer to a Division I school with a stellar MBA program and an up-and-coming football team.
Tulane fit his criteria. He introduced himself to coaches through email, sent film for their review, and in January, arrived on campus as a finance student in the MBA program of the A. B. Freeman School of Business.
“Getting my MBA was important to me,” Montano said. “And Tulane has been the best fit for me. I think people have a better respect for you as an athlete knowing that you are working just as hard in the classroom as you are on the field.”
At 23 years old, Montano is the oldest player on the team. But he plans to use that to his advantage, not just as a player but as a locker room leader.
“I’d love to help the younger kids, show them how things are done and the right way to do it,” he said. “That’s something I think I can do for the benefit of the whole team.”