Steven Montez determined to get CU Buffs on winning track

Senior quarterback has evolved as person, player during time in Boulder

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Steven Montez enters his senior season with a 12-15 record as a starter. He’s aiming to lead to the Buffaloes to a bowl for the first time.

In four years of college football, including two as a starting quarterback, Steven Montez has had a few moments where he scrolls through social media and comes across a nasty comment directed his way.

“I don’t really mind people talking about me. I know it comes with the job,” said Montez, who is entering his third season as Colorado’s starting quarterback. “You have a bad game, people are going to bash you and all of that. I get some (direct messages). But it takes two clicks to block somebody.”

As the Buffs’ quarterback, Montez has been the most scrutinized player on the team for the past two years.

He’s directed some memorable wins, delivered some remarkable passes – in addition to a few great runs – and put himself in position to break a lot of school records. Yet, Montez’s general performance has been the focal point of criticism for some. For others, it’s as simple as looking at his win-loss record: 12-15. Add, for some, there have been questions about his leadership ability.

Montez’s teammates, however speak of a young man who has evolved as a person and a player during his time in Boulder while never losing his desire to lead CU to a bowl game.

“From the day I got here, you can say he’s checked every box to get better, or what you’re supposed to do as a young person becoming older,” said junior receiver Laviska Shenault, whose arrival in Boulder in 2017 coincided with Montez taking over as the starting quarterback. “He’s gotten better at everything.”

As a player, Montez set the bar pretty high with his starting debut. Subbing for injured Sefo Liufau on Sept. 24, 2016, Montez, then a freshman, led the Buffs to a stunning, 41-38 victory at Oregon that set the tone for a 10-win season and Pac-12 South title.

While Montez made several appearances that season, it wasn’t until 2017 that he would take the reins of the offense. During his time as the starter, he has posted respectable numbers, but he’s got back-to-back 5-7 seasons to his credit.

As a leader, Montez had a tough act to follow in Liufau, who was viewed as the heart and soul of the division championship team and only the second three-time captain in CU’s first 127 years of existence as a program.

Montez has never been a captain (this year, first-year head coach Mel Tucker will name captains each game) and takes a much different approach than his predecessor.

“He’s got a good balance between being serious and being goofy,” junior linebacker Nate Landman said. “When stuff needs to be done, Steven does it; and when it’s time to have a good time, Steven’s there, too.

“Not everybody is perfect. I’m not and Steven is not. But Steven is here for these players and for this team and for this program. He’s put the work in. You see the way he plays on Saturday; he leaves it out there. He might not be the most vocal guy, but he’ll leave it out on the field and he’ll play for and ride for anybody on this team.”

Whether it’s dunking the ball over the goalpost during spring scrimmages – to the chagrin of his coaches – flashing fraternity signs after scoring a touchdown or joking with, well, just about anybody, Montez has his own style.

“I’ve always embraced that leader role because as a quarterback, that’s what you are,” he said. “You’re going to be the leader of the offense.

“There’s different type of leaders. I’ve never really been the guy to call a guy out or chew a guy out. That’s not who I am. I’m more (likely to) pat a guy on the back and say, ‘Hey, let’s fix it next time.’ I’ve always thought people respond more to positivity than negativity. That’s how I look at it in being a leader and trying to spread more positive than negative vibes on the team.”

In his own game, Montez has always taken the approach of brushing aside a mistake and focusing on the next play. Part of that comes from the confidence he has to make

Colorado quarterback Steven Montez looks to throw pass against Washington State on Nov. 10, 2018, at Folsom Field in Boulder. Montez has thrown for 6,841 yards and 46 touchdowns during his career.

a play at any given time. That confidence – in addition to Montez’s raw talent – is what has impressed Tucker.

“All great quarterbacks are the No. 1 competitors on their team; they take care of the football and they make good decisions,” Tucker said. “He has the ability to do all of those things.”

Tucker also made it clear that he’s not looking only at Montez to lead the way. Shenault and others are vital, as well.

“It’s not just on one guy,” Tucker said. “Everyone has to do their job so he can be successful – just like everybody has to do their job so that Viska can do his job.”

All eyes will be on Montez, however, and even Shenault has an extra measure of confidence in knowing who is taking snaps.

“The play is never dead,” Shenault said of having Montez at quarterback. “We can always make something happen. He can make things happen.”

Montez is running out of time to make something happen in Boulder, however. He’s got one season left and he’s doing all he can to make it a good one.

“Everything that encompasses the sport of football I want to be really good at it and I want to do it at a high level, so I try to put the work in,” he said, highlighting footwork and his football IQ as his main focus areas this offseason. “Whether people see it or not, it’s going to end up showing up on the field.”

Montez is more determined than ever to have it show up on the field as he prepares for one last ride in Boulder.

A year from now, Montez is likely to be in his first NFL training camp. At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, he’s got prototypical NFL size for a quarterback and with a great senior year, he’ll have a chance to become the first CU quarterback drafted since Koy Detmer in 1997.

It’s not an NFL future that motivates Montez right now, however.

“I’m not thinking about the NFL at all,” Montez said. “I’m thinking about this upcoming season and doing what I can possibly do to win us games and ultimately get to a bowl game or whatever else we’ve got for us in the postseason. That’s all I’m focused on right now. If we do everything right this season, then all that other stuff in the future will take care of itself. NFL scouts, they want to see people who can win games, and we have a really good chance to do that this year.”

Colorado quarterback Steven Montez drops back to pass last season against Cal in Berkeley, Calif.