For the second consecutive year, Steven Montez will go into spring football atop the Colorado depth chart at quarterback.
This time, however, there's a real opportunity to keep the job.
"I feel like it's a lot different now, especially with the experience that I got this season," Montez said. "Being the second-string guy, you have to be ready if your name is called upon. Now, there's no more waiting around. It's here. It's right there for the taking to be the starting guy, so it just means more work, more focus."
With the graduation of four-year starter Sefo Liufau and third-stringer Jordan Gehrke, Montez is the only quarterback on the CU roster with any college experience. Redshirt freshman Sam Noyer and true freshman Tyler Lytle, who enrolled earlier this month, are the other scholarship quarterbacks.
"(The competition) is going to be wide open going into spring, but (Montez) has got a little bit of an edge because of playing and having last spring," CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said. "I think Steven has a good future ahead of him, but I think we have some other excellent quarterbacks behind him and it'll be a great competition."
Montez, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound sophomore, is hoping to capitalize on his experience and prove he's ready to lead the Buffs (10-4, 8-1 Pac-12 last season).
"If I do what I think I should do, then I will step into a leadership role," Montez said. "For right now, I'm kind of just working hard and hopefully people see that I'm working hard and hopefully they gain some respect for me."
Montez earned some respect over the past year.
While he was atop the depth chart going into spring ball last year, he was more or less a place holder, with Liufau nursing a foot injury all offseason.
Liufau returned in the fall and reclaimed the starting role. Montez didn't complain. He simply waited his turn, and then made the most of it when he got it.
An ankle injury sidelined Liufau for three weeks, and Montez went 2-1 as a starter, including a spectacular performance in CU's signature 41-38 win at Oregon. Montez was named Pac-12 player of the week after that win.
For the season, Montez completed 60.3 percent of his passes (79 of 131) for 1,017 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions. He also ran for 231 yards and a touchdown.
"The experience is obviously a huge part in just growing up and maturing as a quarterback," he said. "It's big for me in my confidence level, just going in and knowing I've already been at this level and I've played well. But, you can always play better. That's why we're here in the offseason working."
This offseason, Montez has spent very little — if any — time enjoying the great plays he had last season. He has watched a lot of film in the past month and, asked if he's been impressed with anything he did, he said, "No, not really."
The plays that stand out, he said, are the "painful" ones to watch, such as his two interceptions against Oregon, an interception against Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl and a corner route he missed against Washington.
"You make some mistakes and hopefully learn from them," he said. "Hopefully next season and this spring we can put what I've learned to the test and hopefully it'll improve my skill set."
MacIntyre is interested to see how Montez handles the opportunity in front of him, and so far the results have been positive.
"He has to take a bigger step in the leadership role," MacIntyre said. "I was watching him in the morning workouts a couple of the mornings and I was seeing it. He was up in front, he was leading, he was talking. Looks like he's already understanding to step into that role."
Montez is also focusing a lot of his attention on improving his ability to read the defense.
Physically, he dropped about 20 pounds during the season, going from 245 pounds to 225. He would like to play at around 230-235.
"Now that we laid that base, we're just going to build it back up with, hopefully, muscle and keep the body fat percentage down, so we can keep the speed, but also get the size," he said.
CU is scheduled to being spring ball on Feb. 22. Montez isn't expecting to be handed the job, but he is hoping to emerge as the starter from what he believes will be a tough battle with Noyer and Lytle.
"Competition is the funnest part of football," he said. "Sam is a great quarterback. Tyler just got here and I've seen him throw a couple of times and he looks like a very good quarterback.
"Nothing is guaranteed, obviously. I'm going to go into spring ball and do my best and try to impress the coaches and see what they think."
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.