The random stranger walked up to Colorado Buffaloes quarterback Sefo Liufau during a pleasant night out in Boulder. He didn't want an autograph. He didn't want to offer up a cold beverage. He did, however, have a message.
“The person said I was the reason we lost all those games and why we’re such terrible team," Liufau said. "I think [he and his friends] had a couple of drinks that night so they were a little outgoing.”
Liufau didn't lash out verbally or physically. In fact, he said he briefly tried to reason with his, er, fan. The offensive lineman with Liufau just laughed at their chill QB.
“We haven’t won a lot of games since I’ve been here and a lot of people don’t like me and have voiced that to me via social media or via face to face," Liufau said. "It’s fine.”
Liufau, a soon-to-be four-year starter, is the Pac-12's most experienced quarterback heading into 2016. By season's end, he'll almost certainly rewrite the Buffaloes passing record book, as his 7,397 yards passing is just 13 yards shy of the school record. But the ultimate measure of a QB is winning, and Liufau hasn't done much of that while leading the Buffs offense. His team is 8-21 overall and 2-19 in Pac-12 play with him behind center.
The chief complaint about Liufau as Colorado has slowly become more competitive in the Pac-12 under fourth-year coach Mike MacIntyre is he hasn't been able to deliver big plays in the fourth quarter with games in the balance.
“I know I’ve made mistakes in clutch situations -- I haven’t made the play, so to speak," he said. "I’m hoping to right the wrongs and prove everybody wrong.”
He's already done that to a certain degree. Immediately after he suffered a Lisfranc foot injury against USC on Nov. 13 -- “It felt like my foot was going to cave in," he said -- speculation began about whether he'd be ready to play in 2016. Lisfranc injuries are tricky and the notion of Liufau redshirting seemed like a serious option.
After talented Texas Tech transfer Davis Webb committed to Colorado in February, redshirting, in fact, seemed likely. While Liufau and MacIntyre said they fully discussed Webb's potential transfer, which Liufau supported, the QB also said he never truly planned to redshirt -- at least not until Webb had officially won the job.
Said Liufau, “Even if I was healthy and [Webb] came to [Colorado], it would be a great competition. Whoever led the team, it would be what the coaches thought was best for the team. So that was totally fine with me ... My goal was to come back and play and to prove everyone wrong because there are so many people through this time who said I would not be back in time.”
But in mid-May, the idea of Liufau's redshirting no longer was a favorable option. Webb decided to go to California instead, his sights set on replacing Jared Goff. Colorado, with a veteran roster perhaps capable of finally moving up in the conference pecking order, now needed Liufau to play, as attrition at the position had left the Buffaloes with issues of experience and talent behind him on the depth chart.
When Webb's long-rumored change of heart became official, everyone who cares about Colorado football again turned their lonely eyes to Liufau.
“My phone started buzzing with a lot of different people," he said. “But my thinking never changed. I always felt like it was my team and I wasn’t going to give any ground to anybody.”
Still, Liufau laid low. He rehabbed -- underwater treadmill, picking up marbles with his toes, etc -- and tried to rebuild his atrophied leg while mentally digesting offensive changes with Darrin Chiaverini joining the team as a co-coordinator with Brian Lindgren. He didn't grant any interviews in advance of Pac-12 media days last week, and there's the slightest equivocation when he's asked about his foot. While he's been off crutches since January and has been cleared to practice, it's obvious caution will be the better part of valor when he begins practices on Aug. 4.
(That said, Liufau volunteered that "I am able to dunk again," as testimony to the soundness of his foot, and good naturally challenged a needling reporter to a game of one-on-one to prove his point).
As for Liufau skeptics, MacIntyre claims he isn't one. He said he wouldn't have recruited Webb without the go-ahead from Liufau, He compares Liufau to a first-round NFL draft pick who gets stuck as a young starter with a team that lacks talent around him. Liufau's struggles over the last three seasons, MacIntyre said, merely mirrored his young supporting cast, but fans tend to focus their ire on the QB.
“Sefo has been able to build with our football team and our football team is now good enough with him to be able to be successful," MacIntyre said.
A healthy Liufau is going to become Colorado's all-time leading passer this fall, but he counters this observation by noting that individual records are not meaningful in football when a team loses.
“I’d give away all my records to go to a bowl game," he said.