The Rise of B.J. Denker


(Photo by Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)

You’ll never make it. You don’t have any offers. You don’t have the arm strength. You don’t have the size. You’re not good enough.

This is what B.J. Denker heard from critics throughout his senior year of high school in Torrance, Calif.

After receiving zero college scholarship offers at any level, Denker played two years at Cerritos College, eventually winning All-Division honors. University of Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez and staff decided to bring Denker to Tucson, Ariz. for an official visit and an eventual scholarship offer. He was blown away and committed to be a Wildcat.

After being the backup to senior quarterback Matt Scott last year, Denker all of a sudden found himself fighting for a starting job for a major Division I university.

It was a six-man race among Denker, junior college transfer Jesse Scroggins, Louisiana Tech transfer Nick Isham, redshirt freshman Javelle Allen and freshman Anu Solomon. The quarterback situation was still up in the air as the season opener versus Northern Arizona drew nearer.

Finally, on August 30, Denker took the spotlight as the new starting quarterback for the Arizona Wildcats.

Denker played well but not dominant, doing most of his damage with his legs rather than his arm as Arizona cruised to a 35-0 victory. Despite winning the next two games, Denker’s critics were still not satisfied.

He sucks. He can’t throw the ball downfield. He beat weak opponents. He isn’t good enough to win big games.

Nonetheless, Rodriguez stuck with his starting quarterback.

After dropping the Pac-12 opener to Washington, Denker and Co. headed to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum where they faced a USC Trojans team that jumped out to an early 28-3 lead. This was considered a huge game to keep the season alive for Arizona, and it looked as if the Trojans were destroying all hopes.

However, the senior quarterback led Arizona to a furious comeback but fell short 38-31. Despite the loss, Denker showed some confidence in his throws that had not been seen all year.

After winning three straight conference games, the Wildcats were now up to six wins and became bowl eligible.

Then, the UCLA Bruins came to town for Homecoming, the biggest game of the season for the Arizona Wildcats. A win would establish the Wildcats as a serious South Division contender.

The Bruins were leading the majority of the game, but could never break away from the Wildcats. Denker, as well as the rest of the team, had plenty of opportunities to take the lead but they could not capitalize and ended up losing 31-26.

Was it Denker’s fault for the loss? The defense could not contain superstar quarterback Brett Hundley, who scrambled all over the field and converted what seemed like almost every third down opportunity. The defensive backs gave up many big plays, including wide receiver Shaquille Evans‘ 66 yard touchdown on the Bruins’ first play from scrimmage.

But still, Denker was blamed for the loss because of his four incompletions on the last drive.

Through the critics and adversity, Denker did not let the negativity phase him and has kept giving his all like he has since his days as a nobody in Southern California.

“I can’t worry about what people think,” he said. “I’ve worked too hard to not believe in myself here.”

The worst situation that can happen after a loss in a big game is a let down against an opponent you should beat. This is exactly what happened to Arizona as they fell to the Washington State Cougars 24-17.

It was the same situation as the previous week. Denker and his offense had multiple chances to win the game, and could not capitalize. The game ended on an incompletion where Denker scrambled around the pocket and eventually threw a ball just wide of the corner of the end zone intended for freshman wide receiver Samajie Grant.

After that loss, the season seemed basically over with games at home versus the Oregon Ducks and against Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz. for the Territorial Cup.

B.J. Denker, and the rest of the Arizona Wildcats, came out a new team on November 23 against the Oregon Ducks. From the first play of the game when linebacker Scooby Wright picked off Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Wildcats destroyed the Ducks in every aspect of the game.

Denker was in control the whole game and looked as sharp as he had all season. He was 19-of-22 passing for 178 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also ran for 102 yards.

The win not only gave hope for the Wildcats against the Sun Devils, but also gave Rich Rodriguez a program-defining win, as it was the Wildcats’ first victory versus a top-five ranked opponent under his realm.

Unfortunately, the momentum could not continue against Arizona State, as they thrashed Arizona 58-21 and kept the Territorial Cup.

Now here we are at the end of the regular season. The Wildcats finished with a 7-5 record for the second year in a row. Was B.J. Denker really that bad? He finished the season with the same record that Matt Scott did last year. Both quarterbacks had All-American running back Ka’Deem Carey by their side running the offense.

What were the expectations for Denker? There was not really any time to make any since nobody knew who the starter would be until the opening game. Leading a 7-5 team to a bowl game sounds about right. The plan from the beginning of the season was to get Carey involved as much as possible, so the quarterback just had to be good enough to manage the offense and move the ball downfield.

Even though he did not put up video game numbers this season, Denker managed the game very well and rarely turned the ball over. He completed 60 percent of his passes and only threw seven interceptions. To put it in perspective, the Wildcats picked off 16 passes this season. Being a dual-threat quarterback, he used his ability to run the ball and made some big time plays with his feet. Denker broke the record for most rushing yards in a season by a quarterback with 898. Since the USC game, he made some fantastic throws and was possibly the most improved player in the Pac-12 over the course of the season.

Bottom line, the Wildcats are headed to another bowl game. Rich Rodriguez has the program headed in the right direction. The new facilities look great, and there is a recruiting class coming in next season that is the highest-rated Wildcats’ class in years. The quarterback is the most important player on the team, and Denker led this team to where they stand today.

Denker will play his final game as a Wildcat on December 31 in the Advocare100 Bowl versus Boston College. Although he may not be a superstar with a golden arm – even an All-Conference quarterback may be a reach – but given where B.J. Denker has come from, he will be the first to tell you that shutting up the naysayers can be just as sweet as smelling roses.