The UC Davis way to play football starts with recruiting solid high school athletes.
Solid should not be confused with enormous. The 6-5, 300-pounders with biceps the size of small cars go to Miami, Oklahoma and Nebraska. Those schools look for guys who can bench press 400 pounds and run the 40-yard dash in something close to 4.0 seconds. If you see the name of a Davis football player followed by "4.0," bet the barn it's his grade-point average.
If he can also play a little football, that's OK--they won't hold it against him. But you won't find many body-perfects on the Aggie roster.
Coach Jim Sochor has won an NCAA-record 16 consecutive Northern California Athletic Conference championships with a band of students who weren't quite athletic enough to get into Stanford or Cal. Or so those schools thought.
One was Ken O'Brien, the Aggies' quarterback from 1980 to '82. He wound up a first-round NFL draft choice. He's now one of the top-rated passers in the National Football League for the New York Jets. Before him, Mike Moroski, the San Francisco 49ers' starting quarterback last week, broke records. The latest Davis passing phenom is Chris Petersen, who led Division II in passing in 1985 and is again atop the heap.
The only reason Petersen, a senior, is not closing in on O'Brien's career records is that he spent two seasons at Sacramento City College before becoming an Aggie. He is only the second junior college transfer to start at quarterback for Davis in Sochor's 17 seasons.
Petersen was recruited by Davis out of high school, but as a defensive back, not a quarterback. "He was a good athlete, but kind of medium size for a quarterback and not a guy a lot of people were going to get real excited about," Sochor said in a telephone interview.
At Sacramento City, Petersen was the leader of a team that lost only three games in the two years he was there. But because Sacramento coaches preferred to run as much as pass and the team so often jumped into quick leads, Petersen's passing statistics suffered.
Only one school seemed to want a 6-foot, 185-pound quarterback with mediocre passing stats: Davis.
Sochor brought Petersen in to battle Roger Wilkinson for the starting spot at quarterback. Wilkinson was 6-2, 195-pounds, and had spent two years in a backup role learning the Aggies' complex offense. But he was also coming off shoulder surgery.
Three days before Davis' 1985 season opener against Boise State, Sochor announced that Petersen would be his starting quarterback.
Davis lost that first game, 13-9, but Petersen held on to his job and the Aggies have lost only one game since. Davis, which will play Cal State Northridge at North Campus Stadium tonight, is 7-0 this season and ranked No. 2 in the Division II. Wilkinson is now the starting fullback and Petersen is being touted for the All-America team.
Coaches Terry Malley of Santa Clara and Vic Rowen of San Francisco State have both said that Petersen is more valuable than O'Brien or Moroski were to their Davis teams.
"In many ways I think they're right," Sochor said. "O'Brien and Moroski were both 6-4, real pro-type guys. Chris is smaller, but he can do a lot of things that cause defenses problems. He moves well and we can do more things with him."
Petersen has run for 151 yards and six touchdowns on 65 carries. He has also completed 69% of his passes for 1,765 yards and 15 touchdowns with only six interceptions.
"He's just a super talent," said Northridge Coach Bob Burt. "You don't stop a guy like him, you just try to limit his success."
What makes controlling Petersen an even more difficult task is the quality of his supporting cast.
Can the Aggies run? Jerold Ligons has rushed for 536 yards and seven touchdowns on 124 carries.
Can the Aggies catch? Wilkinson and Ligons each have 32 receptions coming out of the backfield and Wayne Adkins, the sprinter of the bunch, is averaging 23 yards a catch and has five touchdowns.
Can the Aggies play defense? Davis had seven quarterback sacks and smothered Sonoma State, holding it to minus-11 yards rushing last week.
Petersen is the first to point this out.
"This is a perfect situation for a quarterback to be in," he said. "The team has all kinds of talent, we're well-coached and our system on offense is designed for passing efficiency. All of that makes it pretty hard to fail."
Spoken like a true psychology major.