BOULDER — When I told Steven Montez that certain teammates had likened him to Johnny Manziel — the college football wiz kid, if not the party lord — Colorado’s starting quarterback was taken aback.
In a good way. A very good way.
It was Jay McIntyre who said it first. According to J-Mac, the wide receiver and coach’s son, Montez “wants to be Johnny Manziel,” which is why Montez tends to break the mold of recent Buffaloes quarterbacks. If Sefo Liufau hit the road with a map and hotel reservations, Montez has a thumb in the air, backpack at his side and inclination to wing it. Montez’s response?
“Jay, he’s too kind to compare me to a legend,” he said. “And that man, Johnny Manziel, is a legend.”
Explains a bit, doesn’t it?
What drives the CU coaches batty is also what gives the underdog Buffs a shot on Saturday night against No. 7 Washington: the quarterback, Montez, is a wild card — for his team, and the opponent. When the Buffs aren’t sure what Montez will do on any given play, how would the Huskies know?
“With Steven, you don’t always have to call a perfect play. That’s one thing that’s nice,” said Brian Lindgren, the quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator. “Sometimes they get you on a call and they know what’s coming. But Steven, he has the ability to make a play in spite of that. That’s a good thing. We want that.”
After a pause, like a teacher who wants to embolden a student’s creativity while ensuring he still colors between the lines, Lindgren added: “You just don’t want him to get too far outside of what we want to do.”
Before we go further, it must be said no one is saying Montez, who’s scattered six starts across two-plus seasons at Colorado, is the football equivalent of Manziel, a Heisman Trophy winner. Let’s not be silly. But we all have one, and Johnny Football was Montez’s guy. Growing up in El Paso, Montez said, there was no one bigger than the Texas A&M, as he put it, legend.
“I was a ginormous fan when he was at A&M. Loved watching him. He was just a playmaker,” said Montez, whose leap onto the scene came last year at Oregon, where he became the first Buff to throw for 300 yards (333, to be exact) and run for 100 (135) in the same game. “I mean, I think we both kind of have that playmaking aspect when it doesn’t go how it’s supposed to go. We make things happen outside the pocket.”
“I got a little swag to me. I like to talk trash,” Montez said. “And I know Johnny likes to have fun.”
In their Week 3 win against Northern Colorado, it wasn’t until Montez flipped his swag switch that the Buffs pulled away. As an anxious crowd at Folsom Field implored the quarterback to slide, Montez instead bulldozed shoulders first into the closest available tackler.
“Northern Colorado was getting a little talkative. That was the reason for my no-sliding rule,” said Montez, a certain NFL prospect at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds. “I wanted to make a point that we’re not going to take that. It was fun. I like to talk a little trash to get in their head.”
It should be remembered the Washington Huskies didn’t say much in their 41-10 win against the Buffs last year in the Pac-12 title game. They didn’t need to. UW’s superior athletes and game plan came together in the perfect storm of an old-fashioned beat-down, from the action on the field at Levi’s Stadium to the coaching on the sidelines. It looked like one team was happy to be there, the other happy to beat them there. As one Colorado coach said this week: “Not real proud of that game.”
Despite the stylistic differences between the Liufau era and the Montez era, the Buffs didn’t overhaul their offensive playbook entering this season.
“It’s pretty similar,” Lindgren said. “Each one has his strengths and weaknesses. Sefo started a lot of games. You knew what you were getting. What you told him, he was going to do exactly what the coach wants you to do. Steven, he’s going to improvise a little bit more. Sometimes he’s going to go off and make a play on his own. What we want is to rein him in a little bit.”
They know where to find him. The house where Montez lives is called The Lair, and, yes, it’s capitalized. Same with The Lab and The Batcave, two other off-campus residences inhabited by Buffs football players. Montez explained that applying a name to their various rental homes helps to limit miscommunication. “If you say, ‘The Lair,’ you know where we’ll be,” he said.
Saturday night against Washington, that’s in the spotlight. Not to add more pressure to Montez — or The Lair, the home he shares with a defensive player (Isaiah Oliver), offensive player (Brett Tonz) and special teams player (Nick Porter) — but Montez must be great for the Buffs to upset the Huskies.