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CU Buffs’ Tyler Lytle ready to battle for starting QB job

Junior has thrown just six passes during his time in Boulder

Colorado's Tyler Lytle has been a backup quarterback for the past three years, but he will have a chance to compete for the starting job this year.
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Tyler Lytle has been a backup quarterback for the past three years, but he will have a chance to compete for the starting job this year.

In Southern California high school football, the competition for starting jobs as a quarterback is fierce and requires not only hard work, but finding the right opportunity.

“It’s kind of like musical chairs, where when the music stops, everybody’s got to settle in on a school,” said John Beck, a former NFL player who has worked as a quarterbacks coach in California for several years. “It’s really difficult at times because people are moving in, coaches have certain players they’re connected to.”

Several years ago, Beck and the team at 3DQB in Huntington Beach, Calif., began working with a young quarterback who was determined to get his shot.

“We would finish workouts with our NFL guys and then there was lanky Ty, an incoming freshman ready for a workout under the lights up at USC,” Beck said. “He’s always been a really competitive kid who’s pushed himself.”

CU Athletics
Tyler Lytle looks for an open receiver during spring practice in 2019.

That lanky kid was Tyler Lytle, who is now a 6-foot-5, 225-pound young man that is angling for the starting job at Colorado.

Entering his fourth season at CU, Lytle has thrown just six career passes because he’s been slotted behind Steven Montez since coming to Boulder. Montez never missed a game and rarely missed a play over the last three years, but is now in preparation for the NFL Draft.

Lytle, for the first time, has a real shot at becoming the Buffs’ starter. Going into spring practices, which are slated to start March 16, Lytle and true freshman Brendon Lewis will battle for the job.

“Now it’s wide open,” Lytle said. “It’s for anybody’s taking, so I’ve got to step up as a leader, especially. With the seniors that left last year, there’s a little bit of a hole there (in leadership) and especially as the most senior quarterback, it’s my job to fill it.”

Lytle’s preparation for this moment began years ago.

Getting started

John Beck

At 3DQB, quarterbacks at all levels train and the client list includes Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Jared Goff and Eli Manning.

Often, Lytle has been around for the start or finish of some of those workouts and Beck believes it has fostered a growth mindset in Lytle.

“It brings a real essence to it, like, ‘This is a real guy who is just like me and he came from a place just like me. He was once a 15-year old kid, a 16-year old kid putting in the work,’” said Beck, who starred at BYU before a six-year NFL career. “I think it motivates you.”

From the time Lytle first came to 3DQB, through his prep career at Servite (Calif.) High School and through his time at CU, he’s been motivated.

Scott Varley / Daily Breeze/SCNG
Tyler Lytle starred at Servite (Calif.) High School.

“At 16 years old, as soon as he got a license, he was driving dang near an hour to get to workouts and back, like an hour one way and an hour back,” Beck said. “I knew right then he’s a dedicated kid and something good is going to happen for him.”

Lytle starred at Servite and then picked CU over several other schools. With 24 scholarship offers, according to, he was the most highly recruited quarterback to sign with CU since Fairview’s Craig Ochs in 2000.

“Over the last couple of years he’s continued to work hard, but to me what speaks volumes about Ty was what he was doing even at 15 years old,” Beck said. “When you describe what he’s been doing for this opportunity (at CU), it started long before he decided to even choose the University of Colorado.”

Improving through patience

Lytle was a senior at Servite in 2016 when Montez got a few opportunities to fill in for injured senior starter Sefo Liufau. A redshirt freshman at the time, Montez led the Buffs to a stunning upset at Oregon and went 2-1 overall as a starter, playing a key role in CU’s Pac-12 South championship that year.

Lytle enrolled at CU in January of 2017, barely a month after the Buffs played in the Pac-12 title game. Montez was the clear favorite to be the starter in 2017, won the job and held it for three years. Still, Lytle stayed ready.

“I always came out and gave it my hardest and prepared like I was a starter throughout my first three years,” Lytle said.

To this point, Lytle has had a grand total of two opportunities to throw passes in a game at CU.

CU Athletics
Tyler Lytle was 4-for-5 for 55 yards against Utah in 2018.

In 2018, on a miserable, snowy day at Folsom Field, the Buffs trailed Utah 27-7 when Montez left the game in the fourth quarter with a leg injury. Lytle went 4-for-5 for 55 yards, threw an interception and was sacked three times, losing a fumble on one of them, against the most physical defense in the Pac-12 South.

His next opportunity came on Oct. 19 at Washington State. CU trailed 38-10 midway through the fourth quarter when Montez was pulled. Lytle threw an incomplete pass on his first snap, but was hit hard and injured his shoulder.

“I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” said Lytle, who suffered a bone bruise and didn’t play the rest of the season. “It definitely tested me mentally. It was one of those things that’s always a learning experience. You’ve always got to take it like that and kind of roll with the punches and get back up.”

Game day opportunities have been rare, but Lytle has spent the past three years learning not only from Montez but from three quarterback coaches: Brian Lindgren (2017), Kurt Roper (2018) and Jay Johnson (2019).

“I’ve really grown mentally over the past three years, and especially last year with coach Johnson,” Lytle said. “I have a much better understanding of the offense.”

Beck, who has continued to work with Lytle over the years, including this winter, said he’s seen a great deal of development.

“What I’ve seen is just a much more mature Ty,” Beck said. “And, when I say maturity, it’s not in the way that, ‘He’s not this young partier anymore; now he’s dedicated.’ Ty has always been dedicated. He’s never, ever been the type to have his priorities not in order.

“What I’ve seen is just the maturity as in, ‘I know what is right in front of me.’ When he shows up for his workouts, everything is specific. He knows what he’s trying to get better at. As a young player, he came to us because he needed our eyes to see what he needed to adjust. He’s getting so much better at knowing the adjustments he needs to make and it’s kind of like self coaching. He has the tools to be able to self identify and make the adjustments.”

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
BOULDER, CO – August 3, 2019: Tyler Lytle during Colorado Football practice.(photo by Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

More change

At the time that BuffZone first interviewed Lytle for this story, it appeared he would finally have the same offense and the same QB coach for a second season. Then, head coach Mel Tucker bolted for Michigan State and brought Johnson with him.

Lytle will now have his third head coach, fourth QB coach and fourth offensive coordinator in four years.

“I’m a pro at learning offenses at this point,” he joked this past week after Karl Dorrell was introduced as head coach. “It’s just film study when we get an offensive coordinator and get the playbook; just really taking the time studying it and knowing it well enough that I can help the other guys out. I really want to be able to control the offense, so I just want to put in the time to study to be able to affect all aspects of it.”

There will be some continuity, however. Receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini, who was CU’s co-offensive coordinator in 2018, will be offensive coordinator under Dorrell, according to sources (Dorrell has yet to make that official).

The quarterback room has changed a bit, too. Montez has graduated and Blake Stenstrom, who was expected to compete with Lytle and Lewis, opted to enter the NCAA transfer portal.

Lewis, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound dual threat from Melissa (Texas) High School, has already set some records in the weight room and he’ll have a real shot at winning the job.

“Brendon’s come in and I’ve tried to do my best to help him; show him the ropes, if he needs help with classes, workouts, that sort of thing,” Lytle said. “Just answer any questions and help his transition be as easy as possible because I was in that situation coming in early. It’s kind of a lot at once, going from being in high school three weeks ago and being completely on your own in college. It’s a fun time for him. He’s really talented, really athletic, has a really good arm, so it’s going to be a fun competition.”

Throughout this offseason of change – even before Tucker left – the biggest change might have occurred in Lytle himself, as he has blossomed into a leader on the team.

“For me, leadership is all about relationships,” Lytle said. “I had a coach in high school, coach (Oscar) McBride who had a really big impact on me. You’re just able to lead a lot more effectively when you know your teammates and have a lot better relationship with everybody. And that goes with coaches and players and everybody in the organization.”

When Beck worked with Lytle in December, he sensed a different mindset.

“You just kind of have that feeling that he’s in that space of even though he’s not a seasoned vet when it comes to game day, I kind of feel like he’s done all of the seasoning you can get before you just become the guy,” Beck said. “At least that’s how I feel.”

Seizing the opportunity

Lytle has fine-tuned his technique and throwing motion and the roster no longer fibs on his size.

CU Athletics
Tyler Lytle, center, poses with other Colorado quarterbacks after a workout in January. True freshman Brendon Lewis is at left.

“I’m a true 225 now,” Lytle said with a laugh. “The roster just doesn’t say that. Physically, I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in, I’m the biggest and strongest and fastest I’ve ever been. So, I think I’ve really improved in most aspects and I think that’s really going to help me going forward.”

In the past year, Beck has seen Lytle go from working on the generalities of playing quarterback to fine-tuning specific situations, such as third-and-long against a particular type of pressure.

“That’s when guys really elevate their game,” Beck said.

Now, Lytle has to impress a new head coach, and although he doesn’t know much about Dorrell, Beck does. In 2008, Beck played for the Miami Dolphins, where Dorrell was receivers coach. In 2012, Beck was a backup quarterback for the Houston Texans and Dorrell was his position coach.

Beck and Lytle have already talked about CU’s new head coach his desire to throw the ball and that helped Lytle get even more excited about the hire.

More than anything, though, Lytle is excited for his opportunity to help the Buffs start winning again. He was part of a 2017 recruiting class that ranked 35th nationally and included Alex Fontenot, Nate Landman, Terrance Lang, KD Nixon, Laviska Shenault and Carson Wells.

That group has seen CU go 5-7 each of the past three years.

“That’s not OK,” Lytle said. “We’ve been talking about it for the past three years. I think this year really needs to be a turning point to where we’re actually about what we’re saying and really step up.”

Several of Lytle’s 2017 classmates have stepped up and become star players. Now, Lytle has his chance.

“I think he’s put himself in the exact position that he wanted to these last handful of years,” Beck said. “Everything that Ty has worked for, he’s put himself in that position. That’s really why you do the work. You have to work to earn an opportunity and then within that opportunity you have to do all you can to give yourself the best chance for success. I believe that’s what Ty has done.”