TUCSON, Ariz. — B.J. Denker would like to think he was a football coach in a past life.
Clearly, X’s and O’s would have been his favorite letters. TDs would have been his priority. And if the past meets up with the future, he’s OK with that, too.
“I’m a total nerd when it comes to football,” said Denker, a 6-foot-3, 180-pound lefty quarterback. “I love it and it’s my passion. It’s the only thing I love.”
He calls himself a “student of the game and a quick thinker” in part because he “can watch football all day.”
If head coach Rich Rodriguez and the Arizona fans have their way, Denker will be doing a lot of watching beginning Saturday at Arizona Stadium, when UA faces Toledo in the season opener. Denker, a junior-college transfer from Cerritos College in California, is Matt Scott’s backup at quarterback. And it’s not that Arizona coaches don’t think highly of Denker, but they need Scott to stay healthy and upright.
Arizona’s success or failure could rest on the Scott’s shoulders. Of course, other factors are involved, too, like a defense. But if Denker can take the year off as an apprentice, Rodriguez would be fine with that, no matter how quickly Denker has taken to the fast-paced offense.
In fact, Rodriguez said one of Denker’s attributes is that he understands “the sense of urgency with the offense.”
“It looks like he played in something similar in his background, but we go at such a fast tempo, the quarterbacks have the hardest time adjusting to that, processing all the information in a short period of time,” Rodriguez said. “It’s like taking the SAT or ACT. Our guys can’t take it on time. They have to take it in a shorter time limit than anybody, and he’s done a good job of that.”
It’s that “student of the game” thing. Most players like him are sons of coaches. Denker isn’t. He just loves football — no matter how quirky that is, he says. At least he feels everything that goes into it is.
“No one can really understand it until you really do it,” he said. “We bust our butts for eight months to play 12 games guaranteed. If you really think about that, it’s crazy. In basketball and baseball, you play a lot of games. But when you think about it, you work real hard to play few games. It’s a crazy sport.”
But it’s one he loves to play. Last year at Cerritos, Denker passed for 2,319 yards and 31 TDs. He completed 160 passes on 286 attempts for a 152.13 pass efficiency rating. As a double threat, he rushed for 420 yards and seven TDs.
“He’s a good quarterback; he can beat you with his arm and his feet,” Scott said this week. “He’s quick, he makes good decisions and his release is good. He’s getting better every day, and I can see him being a big part of the future.”
For everyone concerned, the emphasis is on “future.” Well, the emphasis for everyone but Denker, who won’t think of himself as a backup despite knowing what the quarterback pecking order is.
“You have to have the mindset you are the starter,” he said. “I don’t like to think of myself as the backup. I go out there trying to get better and trying to make this team better.
“My goal is to be the best quarterback I can be. Hopefully I can. And hopefully that’s what the coaches think. I have confidence in myself. And any job they give me, I will try to do.”
Even if it’s holding a clipboard or sending in signals for the next play because it has to be.
HALL AT PRACTICE
Senior safety Adam Hall was at practice on Tuesday, working to rehab his injured knee that will force him to miss the upcoming season.
Last week, there was some concern regarding whether he was still with the team, but Rodriguez confirmed Tuesday that Hall was “with the program” after not being listed on Arizona’s fall camp roster. Rodriguez said he and Hall had a meeting last week.
“You’re either with the program or you’re not,” Rodriguez said. “And he’s with the program right now.”
Early last week, Rodriguez said he hadn’t spoken to Hall or seen him in some time, adding that Hall was there for initial team meeting but wasn’t allowed to be with the team because he wasn’t on the roster. That is no longer the case.
Hall has had a tough career. He suffered a torn ACL in the spring game in 2011 but returned for one game in October last year before sitting out the rest of the season as to not further injure himself. He returned — seemingly at full strength — in the offseason only to get hurt again in the spring game earlier this year. He is expected to redshirt.