Throughout the spring, Steven Montez has been a very important part of the Colorado offense, taking the reins of a revamped attack that is under pressure to step up its game this fall.
How important Montez will be in the fall remains to be seen, however.
The redshirt freshman quarterback wasn't at his best during Saturday's annual spring game at Folsom Field, completing just 12 of 21 passes for 75 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.
Yet he comes away from the spring feeling like he made enough of an impression to put himself in contention for a starting role.
"I feel like I definitely improved from where I started and I think that's all I set out to do," Montez said. "I set out to turn some heads and show people that I can actually run the offense and get the Buffaloes some wins this year."
Coaches and teammates have raved about the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Montez all spring, which made him disappointed with his performance Saturday.
"It's tough because I set expectations for myself and I didn't meet them," he said. "It's just a message that I need to keep working and keep getting better into the summer and into the fall."
Montez's development between now and the Sept. 2 opener against Colorado State could be critical, because the Buffs may need him.
It's been assumed that Montez has spent the spring keeping the QB spot warm for seniors Davis Webb and Sefo Liufau, but the status of both is unclear.
Webb, a graduate transfer from Texas Tech, has committed to the Buffs, but spent the weekend in Berkeley, Calif., on a recruiting visit to California. That could throw a major wrench in CU's plans, although head coach Mike MacIntyre said on Saturday, "He told me he was definitely coming (to Boulder)."
Liufau is the incumbent starter, but continues to rehabilitate a Lisfranc injury to his left foot. On Saturday, the three-year starter was coy about his chances of being healthy by August, saying, "You'll have to come out to fall camp and see then."
Liufau said he knows whether his chances are better than 50/50, but "I won't reveal anything."
He has been jogging lately, and said he's pleased with his progress.
"I'm just taking it one day at a time and doing my best to push myself and the trainers are doing their best to keep me from doing too much," he said. "There's once in a while it'll be a little sore, but for the most part I'm feeling great; probably more so than I should be. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself and think I can do it all, but I'm feeling great right now."
Despite not playing throughout the spring, Liufau said he's learned a lot about the offense, which has changed under co-coordinators Brian Lindgren and Darrin Chiaverini. Being able to step back and learn the offense off the field has helped, he said.
"Ultimately, it sounds crazy, but I think the foot injury might have been the best thing for me.
It's been the best thing for Montez and senior Jordan Gehrke, too, because they've received more reps in practice because of it. Gehrke was sharp in Saturday's scrimmage (10-for-12, 126 yards, two touchdowns, one interception), although most eyes are on Montez, who leaves spring as the starter.
"I've been pleased with Steven," MacIntyre said. "You can see he's athletic and he can throw it."
Montez said he feels comfortable in the offense, although he continues to try to improve his ability to read the defense. He has also gained some trust with his teammates, who have enjoyed watching him develop.
"He's stepped up a lot," receiver Shay Fields said. "We see him maturing as a leader."
Whether he's ready to lead the Buffs in the fall is still a question.
"I think he can be a player, but if everything works out for the other guys (Liufau and Webb), I don't know if he's quite ready for that yet," MacIntyre said. "But I think athletically and with his ability and all that he does, he's going to be a really good player here for us for a long time."
Montez's job the next few months is to get himself ready for a starring role - just in case.
"I think I definitely put myself in a position to maybe, possibly get a start and come out in fall and turn even more heads and impress even more people," he said, "and even maybe wow my coaches a little bit more than I already have."
Series 4 (Montez) — Adkins 16 run (Gonzalez kick) 9 plays-50 yards
Series 5 (Gehrke) — Fields 29 pass from Gehrke (Graham kick) 6-50
Series 6 (Montez) — Gonzalez 22 FG 7-16
Series 7 (Gehrke) — Awini 9 pass from Gehrke (Graham kick) 3-20
Series 9 (Gehrke) — Gordon 17 run (no PAT kick) 6-98
Series 12 (Montez) — Gonzalez 41 FG 8-37
Rushing (Att.-yards-avg.-TD) — Lindsay 7-83-11.9-0, Adkins 5-40-8.0-1, Gordon 4-32-8.0-1, Carr 10-31-3.1-0, Lee 7-30-4.3-0, Evans 6-25-4.1-0, Montez 2-9-4.5-0. Totals 41-250-6.1-2.
Passing (Att-comp.-int.-TD) — Gehrke (6 drives) 12-10-1-2, Montez (7 drives) 21-12-0). Totals (13 drives) 34-22-2-2.
Receiving (No.-yards-avg.-TD) — Ross 8- 57-7.1-0, Fields 4-39-9.7-1, MacIntyre 2-14-7.0-0, Jan 1-47-47.0-0, Evans 1-13-13.0-0, Awini 1-9-9.0-1, Bounds 1-8-8.0-0, Keeney 1-5-5.0-0, Cochrane 1-4-4.0-0, Lee 1-3-3.0-0, Gordon 1-2-2.0-0. Totals 22-201-9.1-2.