Throughout the offseason, Sefo Liufau approached each rehab session, each workout and each practice with a sense of purpose.
The Colorado quarterback suffered a Lisfranc injury to his left foot on Nov. 13 against USC, ending his 2015 season and putting his prospects for playing this season in doubt.
At times, he wasn't sure when, or if, he'd get back on the field, but he was determined to play his senior year with the friends and teammates he came to Boulder with in 2013.
On Friday night, Liufau's hard work will pay off when he and the Buffaloes open the season against rival Colorado State at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver. Fully healthy, Liufau is slated to be in the starting lineup for the 30th time in his career.
"I'm not wearing a visor this year, so I'll probably be smiling and you'll probably see it," he joked. "It'll be a relief."
During a press conference on Tuesday, Liufau was candid about his emotions as he returns to the field after an injury that has ruined the careers of several other athletes.
In the weeks immediately after his injury, Liufau, who has gained a reputation for being tough and playing through various injuries, wondered if he'd ever make it back. While his teammates went through offseason workouts and spring practices, he watched and worked on getting healthy.
"I really think it's a small miracle he's back; maybe a big miracle," CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said.
MacIntyre praised the efforts of the doctors and trainers, as well as Liufau's determination. Liufau worked out nearly every day, and even stayed in Boulder to work out in May, when many other students go home. He paid his own way to visit a passing coach in Portland.
"He's just worked tirelessly," MacIntyre said.
By the middle of the summer, Liufau's hard work had paid off to the point that doctors cleared him to return to the field. He has gone through the entire August practicing at full speed and avoiding setbacks.
"As it started to evolve and happen, that naturally gives you a better intensity," MacIntyre said. "You don't take things for granted anymore. I think that's what you see in Sefo."
Going through the trials of his injury, coupled with the realization that he's entering his final season as a college football player, Liufau said he has greater focus than at any time during his career.
"Anything with football, or anything in life, can be taken from you, and I think a lot of times we take it for granted," he said. "So there's definitely a heightened sense of focus for me, and holding more people accountable on offense, because I realize how good we can be all across the board. I just think I should hold myself and everyone accountable, because I know what we can accomplish and we have high goals of ourselves."
It means a lot to Liufau to have the opportunity to help the Buffs achieve those goals.
"To be in the position I'm in and to know that I made it is a great feeling," he said. "There will be some butterflies (on Friday). I'm excited. I want to go back out there and play, but for the most part, I'll be locked in and ready to play with my teammates."
Liufau enters the season with 7,397 career passing yards, needing just 13 more to break CU's career record. He already holds 75 school records.
CU has lost its opener two years in a row and is hoping to get off to a better start this time around.
MacIntyre said one difference this year is that the team will have had two weeks of school under its belt before the opener, as opposed to just one last year. That's resulted in shorter practices and, perhaps, more energy for game day.
"I was naturally going to do that anyway, after looking at last year, but I felt like with the class schedule and all that, we couldn't practice as long and we'll have smaller weeks, so hopefully we'll be fresher on our legs," MacIntyre said.
Battle up front
CSU returns four starters to its offensive line, and the fifth spot is manned by senior Paul Thurston, who played in 23 games during his four seasons at Nebraska. The Rams have often had strong lines and MacIntyre expects that to be the case this time around.
"Their offensive line kicked our butt last year," MacIntyre said. "I think they'll be one of the best offensive lines we'll play this year."
Senior receiver Jaleel Awini has been battling a back injury throughout camp and will not play this week. There is no timetable for his return. ... As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, CU had sold 30,537 tickets for Friday's game, with 6,887 of those going to students.
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.