Red­shirt sopho­more to start

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Kyle Fredrick­son

BOUL­DER» Steven Montez looked out of place Thurs­day, a 6-foot-5 red­shirt sopho­more Univer­sity of Colorado quar­ter­back tow­er­ing over nearby re­porters, who hud­dled to­gether around foot­ball coach Mike MacIn­tyre out­side the Buf­faloes’ fall camp prac­tice fields. Montez wanted to ask a ques­tion. Didn’t hap­pen.

“I just wanted to get one in for coach Mac,” he said, “and you know, lighten the mood.”

Smiles were plen­ti­ful dur­ing CU’s fifth pre­sea­son prac­tice, the first in full pads, with Montez at the lead. And why wouldn’t he grin? Af­ter split­ting time with Sefo Li­u­fau last year, tal­ly­ing a 2-1 record as a starter in ad­di­tion to 1,017 pass­ing yards and nine touch­downs, Montez will be the fea­tured quar­ter­back on Sept. 1 at Sports Author­ity Field at Mile High against Colorado State.

He’ll con­tinue to keep his room­mates loose, too, with jokes like the re­porter gag through­out the sea­son —“He al­ways plays around,” se­nior re­ceiver Shay Fields said — that fall in line with Montez’s unique lead­er­ship role in 2017.

Ac­cord­ing to the pre-fall camp depth chart, there are eight start­ing se­niors on the of­fense, in­clud­ing sev­eral ma­jor pre­sea­son award watch list can­di­dates in run­ning back Phillip Lind­say (Doak Walker, Maxwell) and re­ceivers Devin Ross and Fields (Bilet­nikoff ). Of­fen­sive tackle Jeromy Ir­win is also a near con­sen­sus pre­sea­son first­team all-Pac 12 se­lec­tion.

MacIn­tyre summed it up this way: “Sefo wished he would have had an of­fense with this much ex­pe­ri­ence and this much tal­ent around him.”

Montez, who turns 21 in Jan­uary, is well aware of the vet­eran lead­er­ship.

“I don’t try to do too much or step on any­body’s toes,” Montez said. “I know this is prob­a­bly more Phil’s and Jeromy’s team than it is mine. I just see my­self as some­one to make their dreams come true, as well as mine.”

And still, Montez’s team­mates will counter he is al­ready a proven leader. That was ap­par­ent in Montez’s first start at Ore­gon last fall, when the red­shirt fresh­man threw for 333 yards and rushed for 135 with a com­bined four touch­downs in the pro­gram-vault­ing 41-38 vic­tory.

“That level of con­fi­dence, I could see it in Montez last year when he was about to take on Ore­gon,” se­nior cen­ter Jonathan Huck­ins said. “His de­meanor and his way about him that week re­ally just pepped up and he was ready to go. He knew ex­actly what he had to do.”

He didn’t re­ally back down, even be­ing the backup, he re­ally took as­ser­tion, went out and told guys, ‘Hey, you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that.’ I think that re­ally helped him tran­si­tion into this year.”

Montez’s pro­gres­sion at the po­si­tion in year three with the pro­gram is clear. MacIn­tyre says he kept close watch on his quar­ter­back’s de­ci­sion-mak­ing Thurs­day, the first rush-heavy prac­tice of fall camp, and left more con­fi­dent with Montez’s growth in spe­cific ar­eas.

“I’ve been pleased with how he’s been able to un­der­stand the pro­tec­tion bet­ter now,” MacIn­tyre said. “He un­der­stands who the free guy is and he un­der­stands, when the blitz is com­ing, how to get rid of it and how to dump it to his back on cer­tain sit­u­a­tions.”

Said Montez: “I’m more ac­quainted with the pro­gres­sions and just know­ing where to go with the ball when cer­tain things hap­pen on the field.”

But not with­out some laughs along the way. Montez’s per­son­al­ity man­i­fests it­self on game days as well, es­pe­cially in the hud­dle. Huck­ins said, “If some­thing is re­ally in­tense and coaches are re­ally get­ting on us, he can be that guy that comes in and says, ‘Hey, it’s just an­other play. Let’s just re­lax.’ ”

For Montez, it’s sim­ply a mat­ter of mind-set.

“Foot­ball is a game and I be­lieve it’s sup­posed to be fun, that’s how I kind of ap­proach it,” he said. “I un­der­stand that some­times things need to get se­ri­ous, and we need to get things done. But for the most part, I just like to get out there and have a good time with the guys, get ev­ery­body laugh­ing.

“Be­cause when ev­ery­body starts hav­ing fun and hav­ing a good time, that’s when peo­ple start play­ing loose and play­ing well.”

Cliff Grass­mick, Daily Cam­era

Buffs quar­ter­back Steven Montez throws dur­ing prac­tice on Thurs­day.

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