When Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau was still just a boy in the fifth and sixth grade, his father would take him to play pickup basketball games on the army base at which he was stationed.
Joe Liufau told the other soldiers playing not to treat his son any different than any other player on the court. It led to physical mismatches that Sefo Liufau often lost, but it also helped him learn he could take the punishment and still be successful.
"Whenever I got fouled he told them just to treat me like a regular person and he told me never to complain," Liufau said. "They never took it easy on me I guess, to say the least. Coming up in a military family, you don't really complain. It's frowned upon I guess."
The toughness gained was evident throughout Liufau's freshman season in Boulder, half of which he spent as the starting quarterback for the Buffs. Liufau's ability to take hits and bounce back to make the next play earned him plenty of respect from teammates and coaches who named him a team captain this spring entering his sophomore season.
Liufau, who was sacked 10 times in 2013 and knocked down often, is solidly entrenched as the Buffs' starter after two days of fall camp and is hoping to take the CU offense to another level in terms of production and scoring this season. Coach Mike MacIntyre said Liufau has an intangible quality that can't be developed.
"The thing you can never teach a quarterback is to see the guy who sits in there and doesn't see the rush and is tough," MacIntyre said. "You can't make a guy do that. You can't. He can do that. So that's the great thing about him."
MacIntyre said the next step for Liufau is to make decisions about where to go with the ball faster. He said he believes Liufau is making progress. MacIntyre said coaches want Liufau to get the ball out quickly, improve his accuracy and get the offense into the end zone more often when it reaches the red zone.
CU's offense drove inside the opponent's 20-yard line just 32 times in 12 games last season and scored only 14 touchdowns on those red zone situations. Improvement there was a focal point for Liufau and the offense throughout spring and will be again this month leading up the season opener Aug. 29 against Colorado State.
Liufau played in eight games and started seven and was named the team's most outstanding freshman in 2013. He became only the third true freshman in history to lead the Buffs in passing, joining Craig Ochs and Cody Hawkins. He completed nearly 60 percent of his passes, threw 12 touchdown passes and led the Buffs to two wins in his seven starts.
Despite that modest success, Liufau didn't seem particularly happy with the way he played last season. When his freshman season was over, he told reporters he planned to bunker himself in for the winter and spend a lot of time watching film and trying to improve in the offseason.
He said he thought he accomplished that goal when he was asked about it following Sunday's practice.
"You don't notice it going day by day, notice the improvements that you're making in whatever you're doing," Liufau said. "But I think that I've made strides compared to last year. I see coverages easier. You make mistakes from time to time and I still won't be happy with it, but I think overall I've grown as a quarterback."
Liufau threw 251 passes last season and eight of them were intercepted. MacIntyre said having 37 of his throws hurried by defenders was too many for the number of games he played. But he also said some of those hurries were the result of Liufau holding on to the ball too long.
If the offensive line can improve its protection this season and Liufau improves as much as he believes he can, CU could have a quarterback completing more than 60 percent of his passes. The last time the Buffs had a quarterback produce a 60 percent completion rate or better for an entire season was 2005 when Joel Klatt did so. That was also the Buffs' last winning season.