Even though quarterback Sefo Liufau prides himself in being diligently prepared, even with all his beyond-his-years maturity, the moment Saturday was far too big for him to ignore.
Maybe it was the sight of 36,000 fans, including his parents from Tacoma and a cousin from San Jose, starting to fill up Folsom Field, home of the Colorado Buffaloes.
Maybe it was the attention-grabbing pounding hooves of mascot Ralphie as the live buffalo galloped around the field during pregame warm-ups.
There was no avoiding the public-address announcer’s introduction: “At quarterback for Colorado Sefo Liufau.”
Just four months ago, Liufau – The News Tribune’s 2012 All-Area player of the year – was partaking in Bellarmine Prep’s graduation ceremonies. Hours later, he was on an airplane with his father, Joe, to Boulder, Colo., to enroll in college, and jump into the Buffaloes’ summer football workouts.
And Saturday, Liufau became what is thought to be the first true freshman from Pierce County to start at quarterback in the Pac-12 Conference.
“Like I’ve said, I don’t know if it has all hit me,” Liufau said Sunday morning, hours after leading the Buffaloes to a 43-10 victory over Charleston Southern, a previously undefeated Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponent.
“It is unreal that I am playing in such a big conference, on a team like Colorado. I am trying to help turn this team around. And I am not alone in this.”
Liufau executed the Buffaloes’ conservative game plan efficiently, if not flawlessly. He completed 14 of his 20 passes for 198 yards, marking the fourth-highest passing total for any Colorado freshman making his starting debut.
And early in the second quarter, he fielded a skidding shotgun snap off the turf, found star receiver Paul Richardson over the middle and lobbed a high pass against the Buccaneers’ all-out blitz that resulted in a 60-yard catch-and-run TD.
“(The snap) kind of rolled and bounced up to me in slow motion,” Liufau said. “I knew they were in cover-zero, bringing pressure. I had to get it out quickly. (Richardson’s) guy got picked off, and Paul came open. I just gave it to him.”
Liufau did not throw an interception, and he left his first start with a 169.7 passer rating, which drew a positive assessment from first-year Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre.
“He made some good throws,” MacIntyre told the media after the game. “He was able to calm down a bit.”
Upcoming games include another home date Saturday against Arizona, followed by road games at UCLA (Nov. 2) and Washington (Nov. 9).
“I am looking forward to that (UW) game,” Liufau said.
Nobody, including Liufau, knows if this is a permanent change. It appears the job is his for the foreseeable future.
The initial plan was for Liufau to sit behind redshirt junior Connor Wood, who won the starting position in fall camp, and hope he could redshirt. But when Wood struggled for a second game, he was pulled when the Buffaloes went down 25-0 in the first quarter against Arizona State on Oct. 12.
Liufau came on and led the offense to a score in his first career drive, capped by his 10-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Spruce.
Though Colorado lost, 54-13. Liufau’s numbers were respectable (18-for-26 passing, 169 yards), He did throw a pair of interceptions.
On the way home, he talked to Brian Jensen, his former offensive coordinator at Bellarmine Prep. Jensen previously was offensive coordinator at Idaho State.
“He gave me a ‘D’ for my performance, if I remember correctly,” Liufau said. “And it was totally fine.”
With word out that Liufau might remain the starter for 3-3 Colorado – it wasn’t officially announced until last Monday – Jensen got a head start in giving his former pupil a few pointers.
“I just told him basically to just keep things simple, and do what you’ve always done – let the bells and whistles be bells and whistles, and stay grounded in your preparation,” Jensen said.
Liufau said the week leading to the Charleston Southern game wasn’t stressful or out of the ordinary. He met all his pregame media obligations Tuesday, and spent more than his normal time studying video on the Buccaneers with offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren, a former DeSales star quarterback.
“I know the whole playbook but we simplified it a little bit (Saturday) so we could play faster,” Liufau said.
All week teammates came up and offered encouragement. Richardson, the face of the program, told him to “play and have fun like any football game.”
Liufau said only on game day did the reality of it – starting his first game – hit him. Afterward, he spent a few hours with his parents at the hotel watching football, sending out tweets and text messages to friends back home and talking about the game.
“It was just so exciting and fun to see Sefo take the field,” Joe Liufau said. “We were talking about it that last year, he was in high school. Now he is on the biggest stage he can be. All the hard work and the patience have paid off for him.”
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442