B.J. Denker brings a bit of flavor to the quarterback position. His nickname and Twitter handle say all you need to know about Arizona’s backup to Matt Scott.
“When I first met him … I saw (that) he called himself ‘Vanilla Vick’,” senior receiver Dan Buckner recalled, laughing.
The nickname, created by Denker’s high school friends in Torrance, Calif., is a nod to Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, who is well-known for his uncanny athleticism and speed at the quarterback position.
Buckner thought it was a joke when he first heard the nickname “Vanilla Vick”, but after watching Denker, who transferred to the UA in the spring from Cerritos College, play for the first time in fall camp he realized that the moniker is surprisingly accurate.
“I was like, OK,” Buckner said. “Then we got on the field and I saw he was mobile. He can stretch the field and get outside the pocket and extend the play, just to never give up on a play. It’s the same as Matt Scott. Those are the type of quarterbacks coach (Rich) Rodriguez wants.”
Denker, who admits he was a diehard UCLA fan growing up, has a skill set similar to Scott and Vick’s in that he is able to make plays with his legs, get some yards running the ball, throw the ball on the run and extend plays with his athleticism. In terms of physicality, though, Denker still has a ways to go. Scott is 6-foot-3 and weighs close to 200 pounds, while Vick is 6-foot and 215 pounds. Denker comes in at 6-foot-3 and is listed at 177 pounds, even though he says he weighs closer to a still undersized 185. Coming out of high school three years ago, Denker was three inches shorter and weighed 35 pounds less.
“I went to a small high school and I didn’t get any exposure,” Denker said. “I was really small. I was about 6-foot, 150 pounds.”
Even with such a short stature, Denker garnered 3,700 total yards of offense in his senior year. Ever since he was a kid, Denker had always wanted to play for a Pac-10 (now Pac-12) football program, but he didn’t receive much Division I interest due to his lack of size.
So he went to Cerritos College in Norwalk, Calif., the same institution that has produced NFL talent like former Washington Redskins quarterback Jim Zorn and head coach Joe Gibbs, in hopes of catching the eye of a Pac-12 program.
After his freshman year at Cerritos, in which he completed 14-of-30 passes for 193 and two touchdowns as a backup, Denker made the decision to take his sophomore year off, redshirt and bulk up.
“I just wasn’t physically mature,” Denker said. “There’s no way that a school would look at me (at his size). I grew (three inches), I hit the weight room, I ate and it was the best decision of my life. I wouldn’t be here at Arizona if it wasn’t for that.”
His diet consisted primarily of pasta, chicken, steak and “protein and carbs, anything that would help pack (the weight) on.” It wasn’t easy for him to put on all that weight, either.
“My metabolism is so ridiculous, I have to eat so much,” Denker said. “It’s horrible because my younger brother wakes up in the morning thinking about food. I can just take it or leave it. That bloated feeling when you’re full is the worst.
“It’s forcing yourself (to finish) and it’s rough. I just get myself to think, ‘If it gives me a pound or two its gonna be worth it,’ so I’ll just force myself to finish the protein shake or the meal.”
Denker feels that most people consider the “ideal” quarterback to be in the 6-foot-4, 200-plus pound range, but he was just concerned with getting to a weight that would allow him to take hits from Division I-level defenders.
“I still need to put on some weight but I just wanted to be where I could withstand a full season,” Denker said about his decision to redshirt. “Not get injured, take a hit. That’s what everyone’s worried about. I just needed to be healthy, at a healthy weight that I could survive.”
His decision paid off. After his redshirt season, he passed for 2,319 yards and 31 touchdowns, and ran for an additional 420 yards and seven touchdowns.
When Denker came to Tucson on a visit in the spring, he walked right into a perfect situation, as at the time there were just two walk-on quarterbacks behind Scott. Rodriguez and his coaching staff were admittedly desperate for bodies at the position. Also, his skill set fit Rodriguez’s spread option offense to a T, as it tends to require a mobile quarterback at the helm.
“He kind of fell on us,” Rodriguez said. “We were looking for another quarterback and we were hoping to try and find another experienced guy, but B.J. was a guy that was kind of under the radar. Nobody knew about him. He wasn’t overly recruited in junior college but we liked what we saw on film.
“When he came on his visit we just thought, ‘This is a good guy and he’d be a good fit.’”
It was a match made in heaven for Denker.
“When I was sent on my visit, (Rodriguez) said they wanted me,” Denker said. “That’s all I needed to hear. That’s been my dream (to play in the Pac-12), and Rich Rod and this offense, it’s fun to play in. So that’s all I needed to hear.”