Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Three Washington defenders were in hot pursuit of Colorado quarterback Steven Montez on a key third down early in the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 2.
On the run, Montez kept his eyes down field, hoping for somebody to get open. A couple of steps before reaching the sidelines, Montez, still running, turned his shoulders and threw across his body to running back Kyle Evans for a first down.
It was the type of play that has Colorado excited for the future of the quarterback position.
“It’s going to be great,” Montez said. “We’re going to have three, in my opinion, top quality, high-caliber guys. It’s going to be a good competition to watch out for.”
Senior Sefo Liufau still has one more game in his record-breaking career for the Buffs (10-3), who take on Oklahoma State in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29, but the future is around the corner.
Montez, a redshirt freshman who went 2-1 as a starter this season, appears to be the favorite to take over, but true freshman Sam Noyer and incoming freshman Tyler Lytle are talented enough to push him for the job.
“I like the talent that we’ve got,” CU co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Brian Lindgren said. “I like the personalities of the guys that we’ve got. They’re confident guys that (teammates) will rally around.
“I’m excited for the future, definitely.”
Montez may have given CU a glimpse into the future with his play this year.
As the Buffs’ top backup, he was exceptional at times when Liufau was injured, throwing for 1,017 yards and nine touchdowns and rushing for 231 yards and a score. Montez guided the Buffs to a 41-38 victory at Oregon, which was the catalyst to their Pac-12 South championship. He also led a 47-6 rout of Oregon State.
“He has the potential to be one of the best quarterbacks to ever play here for sure,” junior receiver Devin Ross said. “When he gets a whole year under his belt of weight lifting and understanding what his role is going to be, he’s going to be crazy.”
The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Montez makes plays with his feet, but also possesses a rocket arm.
“We have to get used to his arm,” Ross said. “It’s pretty strong.”
So is Montez’s confidence, which got a major boost from getting to play in difficult road environments, at Michigan, Oregon, Southern Cal and the Pac-12 championship game.
“It was huge, just getting some experience under my belt and just developing me as a player and making me mature a little bit as the season went on,” he said.
Montez said he learned this season that he doesn’t have to do it all on his own, because CU is loaded with weapons on offense.
“I’m kind of just the middle man,” he said. “I’m getting the ball to our playmakers and letting them go make the plays.”
As Montez proved on that third-down against Washington — and many other plays this season — he is a play-maker, too.
“He’s a gunslinger, man,” Lindgren said. “Sometimes he’s not always going exactly where you want him to go with the ball, but he’s going to be really aggressive; he’s a real confident player, he’s going to take some chances on the field.”
As the coordinator and play-caller, Lindgren said it can sometimes be tough to watch his quarterback freelancing, but added, “You learn to get over it when he’s making plays.”
In addition to making plays, Montez hopes he can fills Liufau’s role as a highly respected team leader.
“I think I’ve taken strides in replacing Sefo next year in being that guy,” he said. “I think that definitely builds confidence in the team when you see a young guy come in and succeed.”
Noyer spent the season working with the scout team and learning the playbook as a freshman, but he made a positive impression on his teammates, too.
“Sam probably has the best mechanics of all the quarterbacks here, including myself,” Liufau said. “It’s all about learning the offense for him.”
Noyer believes this was a very productive season for his development.
“Honestly, I thought it was a lot better than I thought it was going to be coming into here,” he said. “What I mean by that, I picked up on a lot of things.
“I’ve been learning a lot from the coaches, from the players. I was sort of taken under Sefo’s wing a little bit and learning from him, picking his brain.”
While he will be moving on, Liufau said he’s eager to see how the competition plays out between Montez and Noyer.
“I think Steven has the leg up with being able to play in games and being able to perform in games, but Sam is no slouch of a quarterback,” Liufau said. “I think whoever goes out there and works the hardest and puts the most into this program over this next year can really do some special things and lead this team because we’ve got a lot of weapons coming back on offense.”
Lytle could make the competition even more interesting.
He recently completed his prep career at Servite High School in Anaheim, Calif., and is the most highly-recruited quarterback prospect for the Buffs since Craig Ochs in 2000. Although he has yet to sign a letter of intent, he is planning to enroll at CU in January and take part in spring ball.
Whether it’s Montez, Noyer or Lytle running the show next year, the battle to replace Liufau ought to be a good one.
“It’s going to be fun,” Montez said.
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.