As a substitute starter last season, Steven Montez was good enough to make Colorado football fans excited for the future.
That future is now here, and Montez is no longer a substitute.
The redshirt sophomore quarterback has entered CU’s preseason camp — which began on Saturday — with the task of figuring out how to handle the job on a full-time basis.
“I’ve always kind of worked hard in the offseason,” Montez said Sunday. “I worked especially hard this offseason just because I have all that extra (pressure to be the starter) on me. So that was the reason I had to work extremely hard with dieting and extra running and doing all the extra stuff to slim down.
“Now that I’m there, I’m kind of approaching fall camp how I approach every fall camp.”
The approach — “Just come in and compete and try to play the best football I possibly can for my team and hopefully we can get better as a unit,” he said — may not be any different for Montez, but this is certainly a different season for the 6-foot-5, 225-pound quarterback.
For the first time since 2014, when he was a senior at Del Valle High School in El Paso, Texas, Montez is expected to be in a starting role.
Having spent the previous two seasons as an understudy to Sefo Liufau — now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Montez’s time has arrived.
“He’s always been a quarterback growing up. His dad (Alfred) was a quarterback,” CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “He’s really been groomed.
“He has good physical attributes, he’s very smart, has a good personality. He’s just got to be able to handle the grind every day of being prepared, being ready to play; have a bad series and go back out there and don’t flinch; having a bad game and being able to bounce back. Those are the things he’s going to have to handle on a daily basis. It’s different being the backup than it is being the guy.”
Montez learned the hard way that being an unprepared backup can be tough. He was thrown into the fire at Michigan in the third game of the 2016 season after Liufau injured his ankle, and went 0-for-7 on his passes on a 45-28 loss.
Over the next three weeks, however, he was the man and led the Buffs to a 2-1 record. He even won a Pac-12 offensive player of the week award.
“I think that gives me a little bit of confidence with guys,” he said.
Montez has carried that into the offseason. Knowing the opportunity in front of him, he’s steadily improved from December to now.
“There’s no question you’ve seen him grow,” co-offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini said. “You’ve seen him really grow as a leader, as far as commanding the offense, understanding the concepts and protections, understanding the progressions. You can really see his maturation even from spring ball to the summer to fall camp.”
That maturation is a by-product of having two years of learning to play at the college level.
Liufau didn’t have that luxury. By the sixth game of his true freshman season of 2013 — 10 days before his 19th birthday — Liufau was the starter. It was MacIntyre’s first season at CU, and he really didn’t have much of a choice.
Montez had a full redshirt year (2015) and got to play a little bit last year without the daily pressure of leading the team.
“We’ve prepared him right,” MacIntyre said. “We didn’t have to throw him into the fire like we did Sefo. He will have three fall camps and two spring practices. That’s pretty good to be ready to go.”
Spending all that time developing Montez in practice, where the Buffs do so much 11-on-11 drills that repetitions are never lacking, is MacIntyre’s ideal method for preparing his quarterbacks.
“I like the way we train our quarterbacks and the way we do so many repetitions (in practice),” MacIntyre said. “Now, calming nerves and all of that, they have to do. That’s part of it.”
Nerves haven’t ever really been much of an issue for Montez, and it helps that he’s got some of the best receivers in the country, a senior running back (Phillip Lindsay), who is one of the best in the Pac-12, and an offensive line that is CU’s strongest group in years.
“All Steven has to do — or (backups) Sam Noyer and Tyler Lytle — is just do their role,” MacIntyre said. “They don’t have to be incredible.”
Brian Howell: email@example.com, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.