While “The Rise” may have begun last season, it is the 2017 campaign for Colorado Football that truly marks a new era for the Buffs. Following the graduation of CU’s all-time leading passer, the walking record book himself, quarterback Sefo Liufau, the keys to the offense will be in the hands of someone else for the first time in four years. That man is redshirt sophomore quarterback Steven Montez.

Montez redshirted his true freshman season in 2015 and was named Luifau’s backup in fall camp of 2016. Liufau struggled with injuries, forcing Montez into early, yet significant action. There was anxiety to see if a redshirt freshman could quarterback a team with 27 seniors on it. Montez calmed those nerves the moment he stepped on the field. It was pretty clear right away that if nothing else, the kid from El Paso, Texas had talent.

Montez became the first player in CU history to throw a touchdown on his first career passing attempt since Joe Dowler in 1959. He drew his first career start at Oregon a few weeks later and added to the hype train, as he became the first player in Colorado history to throw for over 300 yards and rush for 100 in the same game – all the while leading the Buffs to a 41-38 win, and collected Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week accolades in addition to six other weekly honors for his effort.

“Money,” as he’s called, went on to throw for 1,017 yards with nine touchdowns against four interceptions and completed 60.3 percent of his passes (79-of-131) on the year. Montez also rushed for 231 yards with one touchdown, giving him 1,248 yards of total offense. The Buffs named their young QB a co-recipient of the Lee Willard Award, presented annually by the coaches to the outstanding freshman.

It wasn’t all a fairytale for Montez. He did show signs of immaturity and youth that one expects from a young quarterback getting his first taste of Power 5, Division I football. At times his gunslinger mentality led to poor decisions, forced throws and turnovers. Then again, when you’re a gunslinger, that somewhat comes with the territory.

There is no doubt he is motivated by a disappointing finish to what was a very special year in ’16. Montez is putting in the work and it is not going unnoticed. He, along with teammate junior cornerback Isaiah Oliver, earned the John Wooten Award for outstanding work ethic during spring ball. Montez is in much better shape than last season, saying he has dropped around 22 pounds over the offseason. Teammates and coaches report improved decision making, and that his confidence is higher than ever before. Athlon Sports ranked him as the No. 42nd quarterback entering his first year as the starter.

On paper, it looks like Montez will lead one of the best offenses in school history. Chock full of experience and talent at the skill positions and along the offensive line, Montez has to limit his mistakes. He has more weapons around him than his predecessors of the last 10 years could ever dream about. Compared to what Sefo went through over his time in Boulder, Montez has the fun job. Get his teammates the ball in positions to make plays, improvise when needed, and, most importantly, consistently take care of the football. The last thing you want to do is take the gas out of the Ferrari.

We’ll get a better picture of what the post-Sefo era looks like Friday, September 1st (6 p.m. MDT) when CU squares off with the Colorado State Rams in the 89th annual Rocky Mountain Showdown from Sports Authority Field at Mile High. However, one thing is certain: If Montez’s career trajectory continues on its current arc, his is a name you will see begin to pop up on NFL draft boards in the not so distant future.