I reclined in the dentist's chair and began to squirm. Dr. David Spalding donned a mask and protective glasses. I opened wide and braced for the worst.

"Do you know Spencer Larsen?" he asked.

"Mumffffpffmm," I responded.

"What a great kid. Everybody at our church loves him."

"Awmmummpfft," I moaned.

"Why didn't he go to BYU? A kid like that, returned missionary, he's gotta play for BYU."

"Nmftump," I muttered.

"He's got the prettiest wife, Ann. Are many of Arizona's football players married?"

Thirty minutes later I rose from the dentist's chair, checked for a pulse and gave my testimony of Spencer Larsen.

"The beat writers wait for him after every game," I began. "The TV guys love him. He's friendly and insightful. He could start for anybody, Notre Dame or Ohio State. He's tough. He's responsible. He's a terrific student."

Dr. Spalding nodded. "I know,'' he said.

Larsen is the only married player on Arizona's football roster. By comparison, BYU has 21 married players.

On Monday, I asked my dentist's questions to Spencer's mother, Teri, a former BYU volleyball player who married an LDS missionary (Richard) from Richfield, Utah, a short drive from the Cougars' campus.

"Spencer doesn't drink, smoke, cuss, take drugs or steroids," she said. "He won't even drink pop. He's been goal-oriented since he was 5. Never got in trouble. Didn't break curfew or party. He's a really good kid."

And why didn't Spencer go to BYU?

Teri Larsen almost croaked at the question. "I can't tell you how badly we want (Arizona) to beat BYU (on Sept. 2)," she said. "We've done a lot of talking up here in Phoenix."

Actually, Larsen isn't a Cougar because the Cougars didn't want him.

"Their recruiting coordinator told my high school coach I wasn't a Division I player," he says, smiling. "But I never pictured myself at BYU. So many of the (Mormon) players from Phoenix go there. I wanted to go to a place where nobody knew me, a place where there was no one else like me."

Larsen, a junior linebacker, is the only LDS player on the Arizona roster. He interrupted his career to spend two years in Chile, on a church mission (62 BYU players are returned missionaries). At 22, he projects as an All-Pac-10 player and a linebacker with NFL potential.

The most surprising thing about Larsen is that he returned to Arizona rather than transfer to BYU or hometown Arizona State. His freshman season, 2002, was the turbulent period in which players made public their unhappiness with former coach John Mackovic. Why get re-involved in a messy football program?

"I came back because the coaches told me they'd wait for me," he says. "That kind of respect appealed to me. You can't beat that. Plus, I like it here. The guys probably saw me as some sort of square when I was a freshman. Now they probably see me as a regular guy. They know about my faith. I know about theirs. It works."

Away from the field, Larsen's experiences are considerably different from his teammates'.

His wife, Ann, is in nursing school — in Coolidge. She drives to Central Arizona College several times a week. He spends so much time studying — he is a regional development major — being a husband and attending to church duties that he has no real free time.

"My idea of a great night is to stay home and watch a movie with my wife," he says. "As long as I'm with her, I'm happy."

Ann Larsen attended Gilbert Highland High School with Spencer, although they did not date one another. When he moved to Tucson, she enrolled at, yes, BYU. She wrote to Spencer while he was in Chile, but both were involved in somewhat serious relationships with other people.

When Spencer returned in the spring of 2005, they began to date. They were married Dec. 16, 2005.

"Spencer and Ann are just perfect together," Teri Larsen says. "Because she has to drive to Coolidge so often, they chose to live in Oro Valley, so it's not too much of a drive for her every day. That means Spencer lives a long way from campus. His priorities are to be with Ann, play football and get his education. He's always been responsible."

For the next two seasons, Spencer Larsen will be one of the faces of Arizona football. Much of that is because he has developed into a formidable linebacker. The other part is his engaging demeanor. Everybody likes him.

"He's not full of himself," his mother says. "The other day, a friend of Ann's told her that Spencer had been on some TV interviews. Ann said, 'what?' Spencer hadn't told her about it. That's the way he is; it's not all about Spencer."

Spencer Larsen bio

● Junior linebacker

● 6 feet 1 inch, 236 pounds

● 22-year-old led the linebacking corps with 51 tackles in 2005, despite playing only eight games due to injury.

● Started seven games as a freshman in 2002 before spending the next two seasons on a Mormon mission in Chile.

● Born in Mesa and raised in Gilbert, Larsen comes from a family of volleyball players. Mother Teri played volleyball at Mesa Community College and BYU. Sisters Mindi and Candi played at ASU and Mesa CC, respectively.

● Contact Greg Hansen at ghansen@azstarnet.com or 573-4362.