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One last shot at Causeway

Hart hopes to go out on top as Aggies host Hornets in finale
By: Ray Hacke Journal Sports Correspondent
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Danny Hart has thrived against big-time opponents in his two seasons as the UC Davis football team’s starting free safety. The Del Oro High graduate had 10 tackles in the Aggies’ season opener against California, a Pac-10 Conference school. He also had nine in UC Davis’ Oct. 2 victory over San Jose State, which – like Cal – plays in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A). And who can forget the 14 tackles he had last year against Boise State, one of the country’s top five college football teams? Sacramento State, a Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) team like UC Davis, isn’t as high-profile as those other schools. However, Saturday’s Causeway Classic could be Hart’s biggest game yet – because it could also be the senior’s last. “I’ll definitely play like it is, that’s for sure,” Hart said. “I’ll absolutely play like it’s the last time I’m going to put on pads.” Heightening the importance of Saturday’s game is that UC Davis (5-5) has lost two straight to Sac State (6-4) after going unbeaten against the Hornets from 2000 to 2007. Hart — who initially went to Sac State, but never played a down there before transferring to Sierra College for one season — has yet to play for the winning side in the Sacramento region’s college football rivalry. “Being a senior, along with the other seniors here, we want to go out on a good note and end our season with a victory,” Hart said. “It just so happens that we have our rival for our last game. It’s a good chance for us to end things on our terms, the way we want to go out.” Hart is the only player from the Sierra Foothills who will suit up for Saturday’s Classic, but he’s not the only local player on the teams’ rosters. Fellow Del Oro grad Hunter Pahl, a sophomore linebacker at UC Davis, had 14 tackles — mostly on special teams — and a fumble recovery for the Aggies before tearing his ACL three weeks ago against Southern Utah. Pahl is scheduled to undergo surgery today, according to UC Davis defensive coordinator Mark Johnson. “He was a special teams dynamo,” Johnson said. “We miss him a tremendous amount — he leaves a big hole. He was big on our punt return team and our kick return team. He did it all. “He made great progress as a player this year for me on defense. We’ll pick up where we left off next year.” Placer graduate Asher Gotzmer, a freshman running back at UC Davis, and Colfax grad Justin Chastain, a junior wide receiver at Sac State who transferred from Sierra College, are both red-shirting for their respective teams. While Hart hasn’t ruled out trying to extend his football career in the pros, “he’s probably not a next-level guy,” Aggies safeties coach Jeff Copp said. “He’s not the biggest, fastest or most athletic guy we have, but he’s one of our best football players,” Copp said. “He’s every coach’s dream. You don’t have to spend a lot of time coaching him because he knows what he’s doing and because of the way he prepares.” Hart studies opponents for each game as if preparing to ace a final exam, and it shows in the numbers he has compiled. For the second straight season, he is UC Davis’ second-leading tackler. Even more impressive is that he has more tackles in 10 games this season (65) than he did in 11 games a year ago (53). He also has 3½ tackles for loss, two pass breakups and two fumble recoveries. “He’s a football rat,” Copp said. “He studies film more than any guy we’ve got. Anytime you’ve got somebody who knows what he’s doing and knows what the other team’s doing, he’s going to be in a position to make plays on Saturdays.” “He’s got great anticipation for where the ball’s going to be,” said Johnson, the Aggies’ defensive coordinator. “He’ll be there on time. He’ll always be around the football.” All the physical preparation a football player does before games can only carry a player so far, Hart said. “I think you’re cheating yourself if you don’t try to learn as much as you can about an opponent,” he said. “If a formation comes out, I can yell out what the other team’s going to do out of that formation. It’s an opportunity to help my team and to help myself play as good as I can.” An environmental policy and planning major, Hart envisions himself becoming either an environmental consultant or going to graduate school to study environmental engineering when his football days are over. There’s at least one game left, though, and Hart expects the Hornets to bring out the best in him – and his senior teammates — like any other major opponent would. “It’s our rivalry, and there’s more emotion that goes into it,” he said. “We want to play well and end our careers on a note that’s happy.”