In the case of Kenai Central senior Jamie Montgomery, who says she's 5-foot-4 "on a good day," it's the size of the heart, and not the size of the body, that matters.
Kenai soccer coach Dan Verkuilen said heart was the first thing he noticed when he met Montgomery when she was in seventh grade.
"She had the heart she does right now," said Verkuilen, who also is a teacher at Kenai Middle School. "She's always had that.
"She's one of those kids, partly because of her upbringing, that has a determination you can't teach. It comes through in school and sports."
In school, Montgomery carries a 4.0 grade point average. Just as her sister, JoLynn, did in 1999, Jamie will graduate from Kenai as a valedictorian. She's also in the National Honors Society and served on the student council her freshman through junior years.
In sports, Montgomery played a key role in leading the soccer team to state her sophomore and junior years, and the basketball team to state her junior and senior years.
She also was a first-team all-region volleyball player as a junior before giving the sport up for football, and a second-team all-conference designation as a kicker, her senior year.
Montgomery's decision to play, and eventually excel at, football point to the mental and physical toughness that have made her a good athlete.
"My dad (Jim) is a coach on the team, and I had some really good friends on the team who would always give me a bad time about playing football," Montgomery said. "Karli (Knudsen) and I would always play football in middle school with the guys, so I decided to give it a try."
For Jim, who has been involved with the Soldotna and then Kenai football programs for a total of 14 seasons, it was an opportunity to spend a special season with his daughter.
"She told me she wasn't going to play volleyball," said Jim, whose wife's name is Nancy. "She was a first-team Region III player, so I said, 'Look, if it's because I do football and I can't watch the games, I won't do football this year.
"She put her arm around me and said, 'How about if I do football and we can spend every day together?'"
Montgomery still had the task of convincing football coach Jim Beeson to let her play. Beeson is not a big fan of girls playing football, and also knew Montgomery would be a key player on his girls basketball team this year.
"When she was on the practice field, you didn't know she was a girl," Beeson said. "As far as pushups and situps, she could do all the things the guys do because she's so strong.
"I've said all along I'm not a big fan of girls playing football due to the physical nature of it. But if I had to have a girl play football, Jamie would be the one to do it."
Montgomery ended up kicking 22 extra points to earn all-conference honors for the Kardinals.
Beeson said Montgomery's strength has served her well in basketball, too. She averaged 14 points per game in the Region III/4A tournament to lead Kenai to third place and a spot in the state tournament starting Thursday.
"When I saw her in middle school, there was a question whether a player so tiny could even play in high school," Beeson said. "She has the mentality of go, go and that's why she has a lot of success.
"She gives 100 percent and she's so strong. She's basically just an athlete playing basketball."
Verkuilen said Montgomery's strength and grit have overcome her lack of height in soccer, as well.
"When she came up as a freshman, I was talking to a group of other soccer coaches and I told them she was going to start for us that year," Verkuilen said. "They didn't think she would. They thought she was too small."
Montgomery started at center midfield, easily one of soccer's most important positions, for her freshman through junior years. She is expected to start there again this spring.
Verkuilen said an example of Montgomery's strength came in the week of practice leading up to the state soccer tournament last year.
Montgomery and 2001 graduate Greg Landua had a contest to see who had the longest throw-in, and Montgomery lost by only a few feet as both throws went about 40 yards.
"That guy was 6-foot-2, so obviously he has the leverage," Verkuilen said. "That shows something about the strength she has in her shoulders and abs."
Montgomery credits that strength to the time she spent in gymnastics and dance before hitting the high-school athletic scene.
She started gymnastics when she was 3 years old and didn't quit until the fifth grade. She then did dance in the fifth through eighth grades.
"With my gymnastics background, I've always been pretty strong," Montgomery said. "Dance helped me a lot with coordination and balance."
Montgomery also picked up something else in gymnastics that helped her out immensely in sports, and that was a friendship with 2001 Kenai graduate, and star basketball and soccer player, Jessi Reilly.
"She's always been pushing us, but yet she's really encouraging and positive with everyone," Montgomery said. "I hope I've been able to be like that with everyone."
While Montgomery's physical strength doesn't do her much good in the classroom, her mental strength has helped her there immensely.
"She's very self-motivated in the classroom," said Jim Davis, who helps with the basketball team and has taught Montgomery for two years in math. "I know she has pretty high expectations so I don't feel the need to push her.
"She's one of those kids that always makes time to get things done."
Montgomery, who enjoys math and science, wants to go to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas next year in order to pursue a nursing degree.
In Kenai, she leaves two coaches willing to give her the highest accolade.
"The ultimate compliment I could pay her is that I want my daughter to grow up and be like her," Beeson said.
Verkuilen concurs: "We're expecting our first child in a month, and we don't know what it is yet. But if it's a girl, I wouldn't mind if she grew up to be just like Jamie."
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