Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Going into this past season, Colorado head football coach Mike MacIntyre knew that sophomore quarterback Steven Montez wouldn’t look like a polished veteran.
MacIntyre wanted to see the first-year starter be a better player at the end of the year than he was at the start, however. In that regard, it was a successful season for Montez.
“Steven had some excellent moments — some ‘wow’ moments — and he had some other moments that were tough,” MacIntyre said. “That’s what I kept saying at the beginning of the year: can he handle the grind of everything? I thought when it was all said and done that he did. He improved as the year went along.”
Montez got a taste of the starting role in 2016, subbing for injured senior Sefo Liufau for three games. In all, Montez played in 10 games that year, throwing for 1,017 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions.
This season, Montez started all 12 games — the first CU quarterback to start every game of the season since Cody Hawkins in 2007 — and completed 228 of 377 passes (60.5 percent) for 2,975 yards, 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He was also CU’s second-leading rusher, with 338 yards and three touchdowns.
Along the way, Montez got a feel for many of the good and bad parts of being the starting quarterback.
When things go well, the quarterback often gets the most praise, and Montez got plenty of that with some stellar performances.
When things don’t go well, however, the quarterback is often the first to get the blame. He got plenty of that, too.
Montez was benched at halftime of a 28-0 loss at Washington State and was forced to fight for his job the next week. He responded with his best game of the year, in a 44-28 win against California.
“You’re always going to have peaks and valleys, but I think overall his practice habits — they were not bad — but I thought he started watching them and improving,” MacIntyre said. “All of that to me is maturity. His study habits improved with being more prepared for the games. It was good before, but it has to go to an unbelievable level. He’s starting to understand that. I’m excited to see what he’ll do from there.”
Much of Montez’s growth on the field will be determined by how he practices and how he works with CU’s new quarterbacks coach — who hasn’t been hired. So far, Montez’s only position coach at CU has been Brian Lindgren, who left earlier this month to join the coaching staff at Oregon State.
CU’s new QB coach will certainly work with Montez to improve his fundamentals, his film study and understanding of the offense.
Perhaps most important is the level Montez reaches as a leader. Montez has displayed some good leadership qualities, and he’s proven to be savvy with the media, but he needs to crank it up a notch.
“I thought Steven’s leadership improved as the year went along,” MacIntyre said. “It wasn’t bad, but it has to be exemplary in a way. You start learning that as a quarterback.
“Everybody’s watching him, from the freshman to the senior offensive linemen. They’re all watching you as a quarterback. The outside linebacker on defense is watching you. That doesn’t happen at every other position. I definitely think he started understanding that even more as the year went on.”
All eyes outside of the locker room are on the quarterback, too. Every move Montez makes is analyzed and either praised or criticized.
In fact, some have pointed to Montez’s tendency to flash his fraternity sign after touchdowns as a display of his immaturity. It’s not a big deal to MacIntyre, though.
“I think it was pretty innocent,” MacIntyre said. “Kids are being kids. I don’t think that distracted him.
“He’s a young man that does great in school, does great with his teammates. (Running back) Phillip Lindsay flashed something every time he scored for the 303 and nobody said anything. It’s the quarterback spot.”
While MacIntyre doesn’t view it as a big deal, he added, “What you try to do as a quarterback is to diminish any type of thing that would bring attention.”
More than anything, results bring attention. This past year was a struggle, which led to more negative attention. MacIntyre, however, is confident that more praise for Montez — and the Buffs — is on the way in 2018.
“As our offense gets better and our defense gets better, I think you’ll see the same thing that happened with Sefo (in 2016),” MacIntyre said. “As the team got a little bit better around him, he got better. I think we’ll hopefully see that next year (with Montez). Our team should be a little bit better, so he’ll be a little bit better.”