Denson a 'work in progress'

The USF sophomore is rusty but intent on contending for the starting quarterback job.

Published March 23, 2005

TAMPA - Courtney Denson has never been so happy to shake off the rust.

For the first time in more than two years, the USF sophomore is running his own team's offense, competing for a job at the only position where he feels at home. After a year at Auburn and a season running the Bulls' scout team, he is a quarterback again.

"Ever since I was about 7, I played quarterback, always," said Denson, a 6-foot, 192-pound standout who was touted as the Florida's premier passing prospect. "I'd watch guys play on TV, and in my heart, I knew I could do it. That's how I got to college, playing quarterback."

He was a prolific passer at Miami Central, throwing for 1,984 yards and 21 touchdowns as a senior while rushing for 625 yards and 12 scores. He's fast enough to run on Central's 4x100-meter relay, athletic enough to boast a 38-inch vertical leap, strong enough to squat 500 pounds and smart enough to score an 1160 on the SAT.

His challenge now is learning USF's offense quickly enough to contend for the starting quarterback job this fall. He's up against junior Pat Julmiste, who passed for seven touchdowns and ran for nine more last fall in his first full season as starter.

"Everybody else is ahead of me in the knowledge part of it," said Denson, who split reps with three other passers in drills Tuesday. "I'm trying to learn and not think too much. I'm in there thinking about coverages, reads, plays, what side, everything. I have to get more relaxed. Once I get comfortable with this offense, I'll be better."

He liked USF out of high school but signed with Auburn, lured by the Tigers' national ranking and a chance to compete. When he got there, he was fourth on the depth chart, and within a month, coaches had convinced him to switch to cornerback, a position he'd never played.

"I said I'd help the team, but then they never wanted me to switch back," said Denson, who transferred to USF in August.

Denson showed promise running the scout team, scoring a 50-yard touchdown run in one intrasquad scrimmage. He received the Golden Bull award, given to the top offensive and defensive scout-team players.

Working the scout team kept him from learning USF's spread offense, which will be his primary focus this spring. Quarterbacks coach Rod Smith said Denson has showed himself to be a quick study but still has a lot to learn.

"He's much farther along than most people would be if they stepped in his shoes," Smith said. "He's a work in progress right now. He's getting his first dose of getting reps with our guys. He's rusty with his throws, but he has tons of ability."

Denson wasn't sure what to expect when he transferred to USF, but said he has been embraced by his fellow passers, who have helped him despite the competitive atmosphere.

"I thought it'd be such a competition that everybody wouldn't talk to me, but the quarterbacks, we're the closest out of the whole group," Denson said.

Coach Jim Leavitt knew he was getting an athlete in Denson, but said he has been most impressed by the humility he showed in running the scout team, by his eagerness to learn this spring.

"I like who he is," Leavitt said. "He's got a great attitude. He's working hard. He's very serious, not playing around, and that's important to me. He's really focused. He was a really good quarterback in high school, but that doesn't mean anything in college yet. We'll have to wait and see."

Denson didn't want to be interviewed by media members this spring, but Leavitt insisted, telling him it too was a necessary part of becoming a quarterback in a major college program. The starting job remains Julmiste's to lose, and his experience is a decided advantage, but Denson hopes to learn enough this spring to challenge him in the fall.

"Somebody needs to step up and separate themselves from the rest," Smith said. "I told all four of them that, told Pat that. They all understand what's at stake."