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Redeemed Steven Montez ready for 'new era' at Colorado

Steven Montez's introduction to big-time college football this past season was a disaster.

Colorado's freshman backup quarterback was called to action in a tight game at Michigan when starter Sefo Liufau went down to injury in the third quarter. Montez missed on all seven of his passes and rushed for minus-4 yards as the Buffaloes' chances for a red-letter upset collapsed in a 45-28 defeat.

Thankfully, his dad, Alfred, was there to console him and buoy his spirits.

"I talked to my dad and he said, 'You played horrible. I'm not going to sit here and lie to you and act like you didn't,'" Montez recalled.

Ouch.

It didn't help that his dad's candid assessment was echoed in accounts of the game that Montez forced himself to read, and they typically offered greater length and less charitable terms.

Of course, that's not the whole story, not of fatherly tough love nor of how Montez reacted to adversity that could have crushed his confidence. For one, he didn't have much chance to feel sorry for himself because the Buffaloes had little choice but to start him at Oregon the next weekend.

"[Dad] told me I had an opportunity ahead of me to get myself back where I wanted to be," Montez said. "I knew I had something to prove to everybody. It wasn't going to be another failure for me. So I went out and worked my ass off. I studied crazy amounts of film. Went over the game plan a bunch of times. I knew I was going to be prepared."

So a player who turned in one of the truly execrable games behind center in 2016 did a stunning about-face and produced one of the best. Montez earned Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors after completing 23 of 32 passes for 333 yards with three touchdowns and rushing for 135 yards on 21 carries with another score in Colorado's 41-38 victory.

Montez went on to beat Oregon State and then nearly led the Buffaloes to a win at USC before Liufau returned to his starting spot. But Montez's performance after his horrific debut, including his notable redemption and the mental toughness it demonstrated, is a big reason why few around the Colorado program are worried about the offense in 2017.

An athletic, 6-foot-5, 225-pounder, Montez owns a big arm and will be surrounded by a veteran supporting cast that includes eight returning starters and several experienced backups. When Colorado begins spring practice on Feb. 22, a rebuilding defense -- not a quarterback competition -- will be the lead story for the defending Pac-12 South Division champion.

Montez ended up at Colorado because of serendipity. Colorado defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat was in the recruiting hinterland of El Paso, Texas, looking at a lineman at another school, when he asked if there were any other good players in town. He was told the quarterback at Del Valle High was pretty good.

"I go over there, and everybody on his team is about 5-foot-6," Jeffcoat told CUBuffs.com. "That's the truth. Then you see this guy come out of the locker room, and he's 6-4 and 200 pounds. There's a 40 mph wind, dust everywhere -- and he's throwing bullets. I mean bullets."

Montez had been trying to get his name out there in recruiting. He'd gone to camps. Heck, his dad played at Texas Tech and Western New Mexico and one season for the Oakland Raiders.

Still, Montez had received offers only from UTEP, SMU and Air Force when Colorado raised an eyebrow.

A strategic communications/public relations major, Montez said he is comfortable moving into a leadership role with his team. He not only lauds the Buffs' herd of returning starters but also makes particular note of sophomore tailback Beau Bisharat and receiver Juwann Winfree -- "an absolute animal" -- as offseason standouts.

While it might seem natural for Montez to harken back to his own personal football crisis as a touchstone for the Buffaloes, he's straightforward when asked how he envisions the PR catchphrase for the 2017 season.

Said Montez, "It would be two words: new era."