Going through the recruiting process, Brendon Lewis had a chance to get to know Colorado quarterback Steven Montez a little bit.
“He just told me to work hard,” said Lewis, who signed his national letter of intent with the Buffaloes on Wednesday. “He was motivating and he told me to work hard and break all the records he broke, and that’s the plan.”
Whether Lewis is the plan for the Buffaloes in 2020 remains to be seen, but there’s no question he’ll get an opportunity.
Montez is graduating after setting 37 schools records and tying 14 more. He leaves as the program’s all-time leader in passing yards (9,649), passing touchdowns (63), total offense (10,609 yards) and total touchdowns (74).
Montez’s departure creates CU’s first real quarterback competition since 2013. That year, the Buffs had a talented true freshman (Sefo Liufau) competing with veterans. Connor Wood won the job, but Liufau took over by midseason and held the job through 2016 before handing the reins of the offense to Montez.
This year, the Buffs again have a talented true freshman (Lewis) competing with veterans. Junior Tyler Lytle and sophomore Blake Stenstrom have been waiting for their turn.
“I think it’s extremely wide open,” offensive coordinator/QB coach Jay Johnson said. “It’s going to be an exciting spring because, obviously, what we’re trying to do overall program-wise is to create that competition.
“I think there’s so much to like in all three of them that it will be very interesting to see how it unfolds.”
Because Montez started all 36 games over the past three years, Lytle and Stenstrom have had very little game time to showcase their skills, but Johnson saw both of them every day in practice over the past year.
“Working with Tyler and Blake, both have some really good skill sets,” Johnson said. “To me they were kind of neck-and-neck all fall camp. Even through this fall season, they would kind of vacillate a little bit each way, kind of in certain weeks.”
Although Lytle and Stenstrom both competed for the starting job last year, it was always Montez’s job to lose. Opportunity for both is greater this year, and that can change the mindset of a quarterback, Johnson said.
“I think the other thing that comes into play is the rest of the team and how are you perceived from the rest of the team?” Johnson said. “That will probably be one of the biggest pieces of this race moving forward.
“Now those guys are in a different limelight. With Steven moving on, it’s a different room now. It will be interesting to see how they take advantage of that and what they do with it.”
Johnson will pay attention to how the quarterbacks interact with teammates, how they go about their business and the rapport they build with receivers – many of which are getting fresh opportunities, as well.
Lewis, from Melissa (Tex.) High School, comes in as the fresh face and with some eye-popping numbers in high school. Although he’s a pass-first quarterback, Lewis is a dual threat who threw for 2,623 yards and 32 touchdowns this year, while running for 1,223 yards and 16 touchdowns. In his career, had had 12,162 yards of offense and 151 touchdowns.
“He does have a good athleticism to him, but I still see him kind of as a thrower,” Johnson said. “Obviously, some of that athleticism will maybe bode well for him in certain situations, but still I kind of see him as a thrower. I’m excited to get him on campus.”
Lewis is excited, too. After committing to CU in May, he had other schools, including Washington State and North Texas, try to pry him away, but he likes the opportunity with the Buffs.
“I just felt in my heart that CU was a place where I could succeed,” he said. “I’m going to have to work my butt off, but I think it’s a great opportunity for me and I’m going to try to do everything I can to accomplish it.”
Lewis is graduating from high school this month and will enroll at CU in January, giving him the advantage of going through spring drills.
“I’m ready to start working,” he said. “I was excited to get up there and start competing for the job. I felt like getting there early and starting to learn the offense earlier would just benefit me for the future.”
With a wide open competition, Johnson said Lewis arriving early is “instrumental” for coaches to get a better feel for the competition between the three quarterbacks.
“Brendan coming in early will really help him to jump in and kind of get in there right away,” Johnson said. “When all this starts to go, he will be a part of that. And I think that will bode well to see if he can enter into that race and how he competes.”
Lytle and Stenstrom have spent a year in Johnson’s offense and have an advantage over Lewis in that regard, but Lewis is ready to give it his best shot and be a part of the program.
“I’m pretty excited,” he said. “I see the potential and I see the things that the coaches are building and it’s going to be really fun to be a part of it. We’re going to do some great things with the class that we have and the classes that we’ll get.”