Posted November 29, 2006, by Matt James, Fresno Bee Sports Columnist

Chris Denman

Chris Denman didn't know if college was for him. He had been an average student at Tehachapi High. He was a good football player, a defensive end and a tight end, but a little thin for a college prospect.

He was actually just the kind of player Fresno State football coach Pat Hill is notorious for finding, a mostly unrecruited San Joaquin Valley kid, as small-town as Dairy Queen and drive-ins.

But he was 6 feet, 6 inches of pure potential and Hill offered him a scholarship in the winter of 2002.

And Denman said no.

It has been a weary ride for this senior class of Bulldogs, touted as the best recruiting class in the Western Athletic Conference at the time. Hill's best ever.

It turned out to be a class of many disappointments, a 2006 team with so many seniors, so many returning starters, and so few results.

Of the Fresno State players who are supposed to go in the 2007 NFL draft, it's mostly been a horror movie.

Marcus McCauley, the corner who ran a 4.3 40-yard dash last year and was supposed to go mid-first round, has been benched.

Kyle Young, considered one of the top three centers in the country, a sure early-round pick, isn't even on the team anymore. Suspended for not going to class.

Paul Williams, the receiver who had so much potential, so much freakish ability, spent most of his senior season hurt. Here's a piece of trivia: How many receiving yards does Williams have in his Fresno State career? Answer: 1,048. (About the same as Reggie Bush had in two seasons at USC. And you might recall he wasn't a receiver.)

The only Bulldog who really improved his draft status has been Dwayne Wright now No. 10 in rushing yards nationally but some think he's a bit slower than he was before the knee injury.

And then there's right tackle Chris Denman. He was never really talked about, not in 2002 and not much now. He's one of the few guys who ever said no to a scholarship, changed his mind and then walked on. Here's the thing about Hill's recruiting technique: He doesn't sweet talk. No strippers. No promises of glory. He's the anti-Colorado.

"When [Hill] recruits, he doesn't paint a pretty picture," says Chris' dad, Steve Denman, the Tehachapi football coach for 25 years now. "He tells you it's gonna be the toughest four years of your life."

Hill does things his own way, in most every way, and when he comes to a recruit's house he doesn't talk about stats or NFL possibilities. He talks about 6 a.m. practices and homework, and how on his team, you'll have to do both. At first, Denman said no thanks. He was going to go on a Mormon mission with a friend instead.

That summer, after he played in an all-star game, Denman changed his mind and went to Hill, who had given out all his scholarships. He told Denman that he could come to Fresno State, work hard and earn one.

When former Fresno State offensive line coach Dennis Wagner suggested Denman switch to offense, he did. He put on 20 pounds every year. He should graduate in December with a degree in criminology.

This Saturday against San Jose State, Denman will make his 46th consecutive start on the offensive line. He is the only Fresno State offensive lineman to play every game at the same position this season. From obscurity to reliability.

"Nobody talks about him," Hill says, "but that young man probably played his way into the NFL."

At 6-6, 305 pounds, he is being noticed now.

"A lot of scouts ask about him," says Fresno State sports information director Steve Weakland.

Denman doesn't talk about them much. Or the NFL. He doesn't say much of anything, actually. He's a quiet, easy-going guy with a nasty streak on the field. In a high school basketball game, he grabbed a player who wouldn't stop fouling him, tossed him like a bag of flour and got ejected.

People keep telling Denman he'll get drafted, so he thinks he might. His parents, both physical education teachers at Tehachapi High, don't bring it up, don't want to pressure him. After the season, he'll worry about an agent and workouts and all of that.

Crazy, huh? Four years ago, he was a walk-on, not sure he was good enough for college football. Now, he could be a pro.

Hill was right, though. It wasn't easy. Success is a pain that way.

(Webmaster note: The Bulldogs lost their season finale at San Jose State, Saturday, December 2, by a 24 to 14 count. The Bulldogs finished the season at 4-8. On Sunday evening, at the annual Bulldog Football Banquet, Chris Denman was named the Most Valuable Offensive Lineman for the football team. Denman was also named a 1st team All-WAC lineman.)