TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It's more than 50 minutes before practice and the rhythmic popping of a glove echoes off the walls, almost like a welcoming beacon.
Looking around there are painters preparing Rhoads Stadium for the first home game of the season, which is three weeks away. But the sound continues from the side of the building with a green awning, where the Alabama bullpen rests besides the softball team's clubhouse.
There, a manager sits on a chair behind the plate as Montana Fouts repeatedly goes through her windup, whipping the ball into the strike zone while pitching coach Stephanie Vanbrakle Prothro watches over her.
Other players are still inside, still getting ready for the 2:30 practice while the Crimson Tide's newest pitcher, who has yet to play in a collegiate game, works on her craft. Again and again she throws, driven by a work ethic that has led to as much success as a teenage freshman may possibly have, and to here.
Dominating high school
When she was in fifth grade, Fouts left West Virginia for Grayson, Kentucky, a town of 3,999. When moving up to middle school, she made the jump to East Carter High School’s softball team to face tougher competition.
The jump was nothing new to her, as she was playing coach-pitch softball by the time she was five years old.
With East Carter, teammates helped Fouts make the necessary adjustment to high school competition. Her biggest role model on the team was Morgan Jacobs, a star pitcher three years older than her.
As a freshman, Fouts was considered the Lady Raiders’ ace, finishing the season with 21 starts. As a sophomore, she led East Carter to the 16th Region Tournament title for the first time in program history. The Lady Raiders won the title the next two years.
By the end of her junior year, Fouts already had a padded stat line, compiling an 111-14 record and 1,483 strikeouts in 797 innings. Her ERA was 0.39. Seventy-seven of her wins were shutouts. She was already throwing faster than 70 mph (which is almost like a baseball pitcher who can hit 100 mph due to the mound being closer).
Meanwhile, she hit 25 home runs, while batting .487.
The summer after her junior year, her travel-ball team won the 16U Premier Girls Fastpitch national championship.
She was even better as a senior, finishing with a 30-0 record and a 0.04 ERA and 383 strikeouts. Fouts added 11 no-hitters. At the plate, she hit .584, with eight home runs and knocked in 57 RBIs.
“I think her dad deserves a lot of credit,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. “When we would go watch her, she was very smooth, her delivery was smooth. That will help her in the long run, because she isn’t going to have injuries because of a messed-up delivery.”
In her seven years playing on the varsity team, Fouts earned three Gatorade Kentucky Player of the Year awards.
Colleges around the country wanted Fouts, and on Halloween of 2014, she committed to Alabama.
“It was very family oriented,” Fouts said. “That was really important to me, especially going a little ways away from home.”
A new home
Alabama brought in four freshmen for its 2018 class. The first to sign her letter of intent was infielder Skyler Wallace on Nov. 8. One day later, Fouts did likewise.
Fouts ended her high school career in early June, finishing three games shy of the state championship. Murphy encouraged her to take time off, so she didn’t play on her club team.
Instead, she joined the Crimson Tide during its trip to Japan in July, playing against Great Britain and New Zealand.
“That was the first time being with the team and coaches and everything,” Fouts said. “It was a good head start.”
It was her first time out of the country.
Since her freshman year at Alabama began, Fouts hasn’t stopped working. According to Murphy, she’s always at the field.
For example, before the team started fall practice the coach went by the field to retrieve something from his office. He saw a manager in the clubhouse, who told him that Fouts had called him in to catch her. They had two buckets each, the ones with the pitcher full of softballs and the other two empty. That way they didn’t have to waste time throwing back-and-forth.
“I’ve said for 23 years when you have a circle drawn around you, you should be the hardest worker on the team, and there’s a circle drawn around the pitcher’s rubber,” Murphy said.
On Jan. 2, USA Softball announced its roster for the 2019 Junior Women's National Training Team. Of the 20 names on the list, four belonged to the Alabama softball team, two as commits. The other two were freshman at Alabama, Fouts and her roommate Wallace.
Wallace was the first of the two to find out. Since Alabama was on Christmas break she called Fouts, who’s email hadn't arrived yet. The pitcher was so nervous she didn’t even let her mother in the room at first.
“It was really exciting, it was like a relief,” Fouts said.
After she got off the phone with Wallace, Murphy called to offer congratulations.
“His exact quote was: ‘So you’re not going to tell me? You dork,’” Fouts said.
Before making the team, the roommates practiced together in Tuscaloosa. Wallace caught Fouts, while Fouts put balls on the tee, analyzing her swing while going over situations.
Fortunately for the pair, Wallace had catching experience before switching to middle infield.
“The ball comes in quick and has a lot of movement on it,” Wallace said.
Since she's always trying to get better, Fouts had already started to extend that effort towards her teammates, pushing them to get better.
“She’ll always text me saying ‘Hey, I’m going to the field early. You should come,” Wallace said. “Or ‘Hey, I’m going to go pitch, you should come hit.’ Always encouraging me to get better and push me.”