When Rich Rodriguez continually screamed at B.J. Denker during fall camp, he had a plan.
When the coach stormed off the field at Fort Huachuca after an unimpressive Saturday evening practice and didn’t let any of his offensive players talk to reporters, he had a plan.
And when he never officially held a coronation for Denker being named the starting quarterback for the UA and instead just let everyone figure it out when he took the first snap against NAU, he had a plan.
What was it?
Make life so difficult for Denker that nothing during the course of the three-month regular season could get to his signal-caller.
Going from the anonymity of being Matt Scott’s backup to the starting quarterback of a Pac-12 team was going to be a hard transition. Rodriguez was going to do everything in his power to make sure Denker was ready for it.
“I worried about it earlier in the year,” Rodriguez said of Denker’s transition. “But with B.J., we tried to make it so tough on him in practice that anything he gets outside of practice will be easier. That’s why I was on him so hard in August and stayed on him. But I think he’s grown an awful lot in two short years in the program, and I’m proud of the way he’s played.”
The senior from Torrance, Calif., will play the last game of his UA career Tuesday in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl against Boston College in Shreveport, La.
Denker has thrown for 2,241 yards, 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 12 starts. He has added 898 rushing yards and 12 scores.
The Star recently chatted with the quarterback about his senior season, the transition of going from backup to starter, his journey to Arizona and other topics.
What has it been like for you going from backup to everyone having an opinion on your play and how you handle yourself off the field?
A: “That’s one of the things you don’t really think about. You know you play in front of 50,000, and the pressure is on, and you play against good competition. But you don’t really think, ‘Oh wow, there are 13-year-olds on the Internet talking about what to do or there are 50-year-old men that think they know football.’ You don’t really think about it until you see it on your phone and you’re like, ‘Dude, how many snaps have you taken in your life?’ And just some of the comments, it took some adjustment, but everyone has an opinion on everything.
“One thing I’ve learned is to not have an opinion on things I don’t know about it. Even watching the NFL, if a quarterback makes a bad throw, my first reaction is, ‘What are you doing?’ But what do I know? I’m not at that level.”
Was it important to you to be yourself through the whole season and keep your personality in public forums?
A: “They can’t take that away from you. If you let somebody take away who you are, your personality or your spirit, then they’ve won. I’m always going to be me. A lot of different quarterbacks are a lot of different ways. Matt Scott was different; I’m different.
“And that’s just who I am, and I like who I am. I like that I’m funny and sarcastic and like to have fun, but I’m also serious and take care of business. I’ll always be me. Even when I coach, I’ll even be a little of a jokester.”
Do you ever stop and think about going from a junior college quarterback that not a lot of schools had interest in to the starting quarterback at Arizona and how crazy a ride that’s been for you?
A: “Sometimes I’ll be walking to class, and I’ll be like ‘Wow, it’s a beautiful day in Arizona. Wait, I’m in Arizona. I’m playing football at the University of Arizona.’ Stuff like that. I’ll be lying down before I go to sleep, and everyone has those philosophical questions they ask themselves in their head, I do that. It’s just amazing to me. I think I’ll be more reflective later on in life when I’m older. I’ll think, ‘Those were the glory days; that was nice.’ ”
One thing Rodriguez has complimented you on this year is being able to take his criticism and not take things personally. Have you always been like that? How hard is it to do that?
A: “I used to be terrible with it. In high school, I was terrible at it. I didn’t really have a screamer in high school, but my junior college offensive coordinator, my freshman year, really was like Coach Rodriguez.
“I was a young kid out of high school. I couldn’t take it. I’d break down. I’d lose my head. It was bad. The next year when I played it was the same thing, he just relayed the message that he did it because he loved me. I wouldn’t be able to perform under Coach Rodriguez if it weren’t for my junior college coach and I’ve told him that.”
What do you think you’ve made the biggest strides with this season?
A: “On a personal level, I think my confidence. On the field, I think it’s been my decision-making. Just making the right reads and giving us a position to be successful. Early on in the season, there was some stuff that I did that hindered us from winning a football game or two. Now, even down the stretch in the games we’ve lost, I think I’ve been making the right decisions. Maybe execution-wise it wasn’t there or the timing was off. But at least the decision was right, and we can deal with the performance part later.”
Finally, what will it be like playing your final game for Arizona next week against Boston College? How will you handle it?
A: “It’s going to be different. The senior game was my last at Arizona Stadium, which was special, but I knew I had another one against ASU. And then win or lose against ASU, we knew we were going to a bowl game. So this one it’s all done, it’s over. I don’t think I’ll be too emotional in the beginning, but definitely in the end, especially if we get a win. It’ll be pretty surreal. The next question is what does the future hold, and that’s a little scary at times because I don’t want to grow up.”