In the early 1990s, Kurt Roper was a player at Rice University, sitting in a meeting with his fellow quarterbacks and feeling lost as he listened to offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger.
"He was going over defensive football and I'm going, 'Hey, I don't know what you're talking about and this is over my head,'" Roper recalled recently. "As a player, I really didn't take the initiative to learn it."
A quarter century later, Roper is trying to teach the quarterbacks at Colorado what he wished he had learned as a player.
Entering his first season as CU's quarterbacks coach, Roper, who was hired in January, is already making a big impact on the Buffs. It's been well documented that starting quarterback Steven Montez has "gone from algebra to calculus" in his knowledge of the game, but Montez isn't the only quarterback benefitting from Roper's tutelage.
"In the last few months I've learned more than I've ever learned in my whole entire life," sophomore Sam Noyer said. "Not taking away from any coaches that I've had in the past. They've all prepared me really well up to this point, but (Roper) has come in and he's taken it to that next level, for sure."
While CU hopes Montez, in his second year as the starter, takes his game to a new level and leads the Buffs back to the postseason, his top backups — Noyer and Lytle — are growing, as well. Both said their biggest improvement has come between the ears.
"Definitely mentally I think everybody has taken the next step in the quarterback room," Lytle said. "(Roper) demands a lot more when it comes to film study and the mental aspect of the game.
"(Former co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Brian) Lindgren was awesome; there's just definitely more attention to detail and more demanding in a good way. For me, that's what I really needed."
For Roper, that attention to detail started with Heimerdinger, who was a well-respected and long-time college and NFL coach whose career included two stints with the Denver Broncos. The knowledge really blossomed for Roper after his playing days, however, when he started working under David Cutcliffe, now the head coach at Duke.
"I became a (graduate assistant) and a coach and I sat in some meetings and said, 'You know what? This is pretty easy. I can learn this,'" he said.
"My first couple of years as a coach, I sat in a quarterback room and I was much like a quarterback and I listened to David Cutcliffe for two years. That was a huge benefit for me to be able to learn how to teach before I had to teach."
The first quarterback Cutcliffe turned over to Roper to teach was Eli Manning, now a long-time New York Giants veteran and two-time Super Bowl champion.
"That was a huge advantage for me," Roper said of working with Manning, "because I was dealing with a guy that really understood the game and he could make things happen."
Roper is working to get CU's quarterbacks to that point. What Roper tries to teach his quarterbacks is to understand what's happening all over the field.
"While football is sometimes complicated by coaches, it's simple in design," Roper sad. "It's 22 people. So, I don't think it's too much to make a quarterback understand what all 22 people are doing on offense and defense. It's not that difficult. The more knowledge they have of the game in general, I think the better they can play, the faster they can play.
"This game, at quarterback, you better have a really good plan before you ever snap the ball and then you better be able to adjust if your plan has to change, all in a timely manner. So, the more information you can have, the faster you can play."
Like Roper, CU head coach Mike MacIntyre learned under Cutcliffe. In fact, they worked together under Cutcliffe at both Ole Miss and Duke, so MacIntyre knew he was getting somewhat of a professor for his quarterbacks.
"When (Roper) first came in, coach Mac had a conversation with us quarterbacks and told us we're going to start doing this thing called, 'Quarterback school,'" Noyer said. "He just wanted to teach us football and we wanted to just learn football.
"It's been really helpful for the quarterbacks and we've learned a lot about coverages, defenses, and defensive fronts - a lot of things we should have been learning, but not necessarily were."
Montez said this summer he knows much more about defensive football than he's ever known. In a recent practice, he and Noyer were watching other quarterbacks in action and talking about the defensive fronts they were seeing.
"It's crazy how much a defensive front can tell you, and there are a lot of the tips he's brought in and helped us," Noyer said. "We never really took that into account before. Not saying we didn't learn it, because we did learn that stuff, but it's just more detail oriented right now."
Roper also wants his quarterbacks to know every detail of the offense. In fact, even MacIntyre was a bit surprised by a recent lesson Roper used in practice.
"(Last week) in our walk-throughs, he had the quarterbacks line up as running backs," MacIntyre said. "They were working on protections, so he wanted them to fit the protections and understand them. I hadn't seen that before; he must have picked that up along the way. It was a great teaching tool."
Lytle said Roper "doesn't let anything go" when even minor mistakes happen in practice.
Having gone through it as a player, Roper realizes the Buffs' quarterbacks aren't going to learn everything he's teaching right away.
"Yes, initially, they are probably a little overwhelmed, but they shouldn't learn it in one meeting or two meetings, but over years of conversation, this stuff starts sticking in," he said.
Roper hasn't had years — only a few months — with CU's quarterbacks, but added, "Here's the thing: They can draw back on being in college football for more than just six, seven months. They've been here. When I start having a conversation, there are experiences — whether it's on the practice field, a meeting room or a game rep — for them to apply it to. So, while maybe some of the things I'm teaching them is the first time they've heard it, it's easier maybe to connect the dots because they've been around."
Nearly two decades after Roper worked with Manning, the game has changed. What Roper learned as a young coach, however, has not.
"The philosophy is rooted in the same thing that coach Cut taught me a long time ago: to arm the quarterback with information," he said. "The game has evolved, so that tweaks some things. But to arm the guy with the information hasn't c hanged and will never changed."
Montez believes his mental game is better than ever, and so do Noyer and Lytle. History suggests one or both will be called upon to play this year, and both are ready.
"Right now, I feel more comfortable than ever," Noyer said. "I feel really comfortable if my name were to be called. I'd be ready to go, and ready to drive the offense and put up some points."
Lytle said his mental game has grown "tenfold" since last season.
"When I walk up to the line ... I have a pretty good idea of what's going to be open," he said. "I'm able to eliminate reads based off of coverage, which I really didn't understand last year."
True freshman Blake Stenstrom and walk-on Josh Goldin are also showing improvement as fall camp progresses.
In just a few short months, it appears Roper has done a good job of arming the Buffs' quarterbacks with information he struggled to obtain in his own playing days.
Roper, however, has been around long enough to know that the real work is still ahead.
"When we start playing football games and the scoreboard turns on, I think more opinions can happen," he said. "But these guys are working hard and I enjoy working with them.
"Practice is important and you've got to make practice like a game and we've got to go out and execute every day, but it becomes real when the scoreboard goes on."