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Throwback

Denove Tries to Emulate His Idol McCann at Agoura

October 19, 2000|MIKE BRESNAHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

AGOURA — Chris Denove is being flushed out of the pocket again, something he's gotten used to as a quarterback for up-and-down Agoura High.

This time, however, he's feeling an off-the-field blitz.

While taking a reporter's call and tutoring friends the night before a big physics test, Denove's girlfriend calls. She needs to talk to him--now.

Demonstrating why he's one of the region's top field generals, Denove thinks faster than a two-minute-drill maven. He gives his study buddies a 20-minute break, spends some quality time on the phone with his girlfriend and later chats with the reporter.

"This is crazy," he said, though it's not clear whether he's talking about the events of the night or the general state of Agoura football.

The Chargers, bar-room floor of the upper-crust Marmonte League the last two seasons, had lost 14 consecutive league games entering this season.

The latest campaign started off strong, with Denove passing for a school-record 401 yards in a nonleague victory over Calabasas, and hit a high note two weeks ago in a 23-20 victory over league contender Newbury Park.

Denove threw three touchdown passes, Brad Altman led a crushing ground game, Matt Smooke kicked a last-minute field goal and Agoura defeated Newbury Park for the first time since 1992.

Suddenly, the Chargers (4-2, 2-1 in league play) were living up to their name.

"As our record shows, we've been pretty pathetic the past couple years," Denove said. "In the past, it's kind of been a joke to say, 'Hey, come watch the football team.'

"But [this season] has kind of aroused our school. They'd lost faith in us, but they've got it back."

Front and center is Denove, a skilled catcher in baseball who is discovering he can throw a football.

In a league that has been an assembly line for skilled quarterbacks, Denove is the latest quality product.

A classic drop-back quarterback with a quick release, the 6-foot-1 Denove has completed 75 of 152 passes for 1,317 yards and 14 touchdowns with five interceptions.

Almost as surprising as Agoura's success is that Denove is willing to put on shoulder pads, given his inauspicious football debut.

In seventh grade, he played on a team that was 0-12 and scored 14 points all season.

When he arrived at Agoura, the concept of playing football was analogous to getting a root canal.

Fortunately for the Chargers, a friend of the Denove family, Gordon Morikawa, happened to be an assistant football coach. He convinced Denove to try out, practically goading him into playing.

Morikawa's pitch sounded more like a guilt trip: "You've known me for how long and you're not going to come play for me?"

Denove molded a mouth guard, buckled up his chin strap and started learning.

In particular that year, he observed Agoura quarterback Ryan McCann, who now plays for UCLA.

Denove saw McCann put victories ahead of personal gain. Consequently, Denove stays 15-20 minutes after practice for extra work with his receivers, a self-improvement technique learned from McCann.

He also wears the same shoulder pads McCann wore; Denove bought them for $100.

"He was my idol," Denove said. "I was a little freshman and he was a senior, but he always treated me well."

Denove's steady climb was derailed last season by a broken finger on his right, throwing, hand.

He missed four games, all of them league losses.

"It was hard to sit on the sidelines and watch our team," Denove said. "We were playing pretty well up to that point and it just kind of threw off the balance of the team."

The harmony is there this year.

Altman's running skills have allowed the offense to blossom.

"We obviously have had a good running game with Altman, but Denove has given us the leadership and the passing attack that has allowed us to be balanced," said Agoura Coach Charlie Wegher, a former quarterback at Westlake High and Cal State Northridge.

"He has been sacked only three times this year, and a lot of that is just him. Our offense is all timing, and he takes three or five steps and gets rid of it."

Denove has learned off the field as well.

Last spring, he was one of a handful of players on the baseball team suspended for almost half a season for being in the presence of alcohol on a class trip, a violation of the school's athletic code.

"It was a really bad choice, a really bad decision," Denove said. "It showed how quickly things can change. It was scary.

"I owned up to it and took full responsibility for it. For that I'm proud of myself, but for the whole incident, I'm not."

Those who know Denove think the lapse in judgment was uncharacteristic.

"He's a guy that made a mistake," Wegher said. "That was just one small thing. There's so many good things about Chris, I don't even think about that one thing."

Denove, who has a 3.7 grade-point average, hopes to play baseball in college and has been recruited by Stanford, Georgetown, Dartmouth and California.

For now, however, football is his sport. The future can wait while this season plays out.

"We've been looking forward to this since my freshman year," Denove said. "Thank God it's coming semi-true . . . so far."

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