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Denham armed, Davis dangerous

After putting up huge stats as a sophomore, Placer grad ready to lead in other ways
By: Ray Hacke Journal Sports Writer
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Out of all the numbers that defined his first season as UC Davis’ starting quarterback, Greg Denham can easily identify which two matter most — 5 and 7. The Placer High graduate shattered school records last fall, ranking among the national leaders in NCAA Division I’s Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) in several offensive categories. The numbers Denham put up are a big reason he’s earned preseason recognition as an All-American honorable mention and an All-Great West Conference first teamer as he prepares to begin his junior season. Yet as impressive as Denham’s statistics were, UC Davis lost more games than it won in 2008, going 5-7. Since quarterbacks are measured by their ability to lead their teams to victory, Denham is eager to improve on last season’s won/lost record — and hopefully lead the Aggies to their first playoff berth since they moved up to the FCS (formerly Division I-AA) from Division II earlier this decade. “Everything falls on the quarterback, even if you had a bad defense or whatever,” Denham said. “One of the things that comes with being a quarterback is that at the end of the day, it’s not about stats. It’s whether you did your best to help your team win the game.” “He set a lot of records, but his most important stat is wins and losses,” said Tim Plough, UC Davis’ quarterbacks coach. “Greg agrees with that 100 percent. He knows he’ll always be judged by what happens in the win/loss column.” Last season Denham broke UC Davis’ single-season records for passes completed (296) and attempted (451) as well as passing yards (3,478). He also threw 27 touchdown passes. Denham’s passing yardage total not only led the Great West, it was the fifth-highest in the nation among FCS quarterbacks. His per-game averages of 26.91 completions and 300.8 yards of total offense ranked third and sixth in the nation, respectively. “With his accuracy and quick release, he has the God-given ability to be the top player in (the FCS) at his position,” Plough said. Denham hopes cutting down on interceptions — he threw 16 last season — will go a long way toward improving the Aggies’ win total. More important to Plough, however, is that Denham learns how to be a take-charge kind of quarterback. “Greg’s a naturally quiet guy,” Plough said. “He’s very reserved. It’s difficult for a quarterback sometimes to find the times when you ha e to speak up and assert yourself. “The quarterback is the natural leader of a football team, and we’re challenging him to step up and be that guy. He’s already being more vocal at meetings and being more vocal on the field. We want him to understand that there are key situations when he needs to speak up, and he’s learning how to do that.” While he’s learning to be more vocal, Denham believes his other leadership qualities will allow him to take command when he needs to. “There are different ways to rally the troops, like being confident and cool under pressure,” he said. “My teammates see that and can be confident in me. I truly believe in being even-keeled. I also trust them to make plays. “When we’re facing adversity, thousands of people are screaming and the play clock’s running down, I’ll be the one saying, ‘Come on, let’s get it done. You know what to do.’” Plough was a backup quarterback at UC Davis when Denham joined the team in 2006. Back then, he and then-Aggies starter Jon Grant called Denham “The Natural” — a reference not only to the classic baseball film starring Robert Redford, but to Denham’s obvious talent. “He looked like Roy Hobbs from the movie with his natural blonde hair and perfect spirals,” Plough recalled. “We were like, ‘Who is this kid?’ “Greg’s always been a great thrower. The question that’s always been surrounding Greg is whether he will take the steps to become a truly great quarterback. We’re working together to take strides so he can become one of the great quarterbacks in Aggie history.” Ray Hacke can be reached at rayh@goldcountrymedia.com.