While at Salpointe Catholic High School, Cam Denson was a star in every phase of the game. When he wasn't running routes, he was running the read-option. When he was on defense, he was picking balls off like nobody's business. After forcing a punt, he'd be running those kicks back to the house.
But now Denson finds himself exclusively as a cornerback for the Arizona Wildcats, and after spending the last three months solely on the defensive side of the ball, he's now poised to pick up a ton of playing time in the weeks to come.
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"They say about halfway through the season a freshman isn't still a freshman, but they are," head coach Rich Rodriguez said on Wednesday. "Unless you've played quite a bit, and he's been playing more recently."
Denson played a lot during the game against UTSA early in the season, which was the first step in preparing him for these next several weeks.
"The more you play, the more you get familiar with the game," Denson explained. "The more you can trust yourself and gain confidence so playing 95 plays in that game gave me a lot of confidence and helped me for the next game to prepare."
"It's good to get in the flow of the game," he continued. "You just feel the game more, and you just get a better feeling for the game, and I'm excited for it."
With the injury to Arizona's second corner Jarvis McCall during the Washington State game, Denson got into that game early and got more plays than what he or any of us are used to seeing.
"It was kind of shocking to me because you never want one of your players to go down like that," Denson said. "Just being thrown in there out of the blue was just shocking to me, but I prepared myself during the week. When the other team gets into the cadence, you can't be mind-shocked out there. You just gotta be prepared for whatever they're going to do and I wasn't in an unfamiliar position."
"He's had a good week of practice from what I've seen," Rodriguez continued. "And if he's pressed into duty, he'll compete."
During the game against WSU, Denson was able to pick off his first career college pass.
"It was a back-shoulder ball," Denson explained. "We practice that in practice and they complete it on me a lot of times in practice so I couldn't let it be completed in the game. I turned around, and coach always says 'come out of your break', and I turned around and the ball was right there and just caught it."
"People that I didn't know still had my number we're texting me good pick, good pick. It was crazy."
Catching that ball kind of took Denson back a little bit to his receiver-playing days last year at Salpointe, and with all that experience he has catching the ball, it wasn't a huge thing for him.
"Coming from being a receiver, you know what the receiver's trying to do, and what he wants to do to get you off-balance and stuff like that," he explained. "So me playing receiver and having familiarity with the position helps me look for what they're trying to do."
When the receiving corps for this year started to shake out, it was sort of obvious that if Denson was going to play his true freshman year and contribute right away, he would have to make the move to play exclusively defense.
"Cam, to his credit, even when we recruited him, didn't really care which way he was going to play, he just wanted to play," coach Rodriguez explained. "He's just a competitor, and one thing about him being a wide receiver as well is he's got great ball skills, and we saw that last week with the pick. If the ball's there, he's going to catch it."
"I get to play, so anytime you get to play you have to enjoy it and embrace the feeling," Denson said of playing only defense. "Just playing strictly corner is good for me because I'm on the field, and I just enjoy every play I get to go out and compete."
"We moved him early enough so he was getting all his reps in camp," Rodriguez added. "He played both in high school, and I think a lot of people including us recruited him with that in mind. With our need at corner, we thought we needed to have him start over there and it was a good move because obviously he's playing a lot right now."
"Cam committed early, and we had (Cayleb Jones, DaVonte' Neal, etc.) on there, so (WR coach) Tony Dews was the happiest guy on the staff. He had so many wide receivers and we were so deep right there."
But Cam misses getting the ball on a regular basis.
"In high school you got the ball a lot, but that's the only thing that's difficult not playing receiver."
Well, playing cornerback in a pass-happy league like the Pac-12, Cam Denson will get his chances to get the ball a lot. And with Jarvis McCall struggling and now injured, look for Denson to assume a larger role starting this week against UCLA.