UC Davis quarterback hopes patience will pay off

Hunter Rodrigues may have to bide his time at UC Davis after transferring from American River College, where he passed for 23 touchdowns and rushed for 14 scores as a freshman in 2017.

Playing the waiting game is nothing new for Hunter Rodrigues. If it pays off for the quarterback at UC Davis as it did last season at American River College, the Aggies will be sitting pretty in 2020 with Rodrigues calling the signals.

Rodrigues waited in 2016 after graduating from Whitney High School in Rocklin. His statistics as a senior – 3,154 yards and 45 touchdowns passing to go with 642 yards and six touchdowns rushing – did not earn him a scholarship. He settled for going to American River and then taking a grayshirt season to avoid losing a year of eligibility.

Grayshirts can attend classes as part-time students, thus rendering them ineligible, until they go full time on scholarship. Such a scenario made sense for Rodrigues because American River was set at quarterback with Griffin Dahn.

Accepting that was much easier than going through a season as a glorified spectator on the sideline. And with nothing better to do, Rodrigues was occasionally summoned to feed the referees with an ample supply of footballs. Imagine the embarrassment of serving as a ball boy with his relatives and friends watching from the bleachers.

“That was a pretty long year,” Rodrigues lamented.

Jake Maier (15) keeps an eye on Rodrigues from the sideline during a recent practice at UC Davis.

One season at American River was enough for Dahn to receive a scholarship to Nevada. That opened the door for Rodrigues to become the starter for the Beavers in 2017. The 6-foot, 180-pound Rodrigues showed no fear or signs of rust in throwing for 2,191 yards and 23 touchdowns as well as rushing for 478 yards and 14 scores.

American River would have loved more of the same from Rodrigues in 2018, but the sophomore followed Dahn’s lead by being done after one year with the Beavers. A scholarship offer from UC Davis is to blame for his departure.

Jon Osterhout is entering his fifth season as American River’s head coach in need of a starting quarterback. Rodrigues’ return would have made his life easier – and his offense more potent –  but Osterhout will not stand in the way of an athlete he described as having “all of the intangibles you look for in a quarterback and certainly has the ‘it’ factor. Extremely athletic, quick release, high football IQ and natural ability to lead through his actions.”

That explains why UC Davis pursued Rodrigues even though it might be a year of two before he climbs the depth chart. This could turn out to be another season of standing on the sideline for Rodrigues, at least not as a ball boy.

The Aggies are set at quarterback with Jake Maier, who was the Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year in 2017 with 3,669 passing yards and 25 touchdowns as a sophomore. The transfer from Long Beach City College set school records for completions (306) and 300-yard passing games (nine) in a season. The offense is clearly his.

Rodrigues is battling sophomore Brock Johnson to be Maier’s understudy, and Johnson has an advantage in the competition. Johnson redshirted in 2017 after transferring from Georgetown, so this season will cost him a year of eligibility and leave him with two. If he is active for games, the Aggies might as well get some use out of him.

Redshirting Rodrigues would leave him with three years of eligibility. And with redshirts now allowed to play in as many as four games without losing eligibility, UC Davis gets a free look at Rodrigues. The possibility of redshirting did not stop Rodrigues from accepting the Aggies’ scholarship offer. Then again, it was the only one he got.

“I knew of Jake. He’s a great quarterback,” Rodrigues explained. “I always felt I was going to redshirt and learn from him.”

The first lesson comes Thursday at San Jose State.

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Last call at UC Davis; NFL put on hold

Keelan Doss has a tough act to follow, and it happens to be his own. The UC Davis wide receiver believes he can produce a sensational sequel, and that is why he has returned to the Aggies for his senior season.

Senior wide receiver Keelan Doss (3)  jokes with sophomore tight end Christian Skeptaris in the spring game Saturday.

No one could have blamed the 6-foot-3, 206-pound Doss if he had decided to enter the NFL draft. There is little left for him to prove at UC Davis after a record-breaking junior season in 2017. He now owns the single-season records for receptions (115), receiving yards (1,499) and 100-yard receiving games (nine).

Doss led all of Division I (FBS and FCS) in receptions per game at 10.5 on his way to becoming a first-team Associated Press All-American and the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year. He was also one of three finalists for the Walter Payton Award, which is presented to the top offensive player in FCS.

All of those numbers do not mean as much to Doss as the Aggies’ record in the four years since he arrived from Alameda High School. A fifth-year senior who redshirted in 2015, Doss has yet to enjoy a winning season at UC Davis. Last year’s 5-6 record was a step in the right direction after the Aggies went 3-8 in 2016 and 2-9 in 2015 and 2014. UC Davis has had not a winning season since finishing 6-5 in 2010.

“(Doss) feels like he has unfinished business here at UC Davis,” said Aggies coach Dan Hawkins, who sparked the resurgence in 2017 by returning to his alma mater after Ron Gould was fired. “What a lot of people don’t know is how genuine he is. He’s humble and he’s team-oriented. He looks at the big picture.”

Doss led all of Division I in receptions per game in 2017 at 10.5.

Hawkins added that he did not attempt to sway Doss to stay and would have understood had Doss opted to go.

“We talked about it, but he was already under a lot of pressure,” Hawkins said. “I told him, ‘We’re here for you and I’m here for you no matter what you decide.’ I’m not really surprised that he’s back. I’m excited.”

Doss certainly did not need another person, especially his head coach, trying to tell him what to do. He already had enough people taking sides. As much as he appreciated all that, he could have done without it.

“At the end of the day, it was my decision,” Doss explained. “My decision was ready about a week before the (Jan. 15) deadline (to enter the draft). I weighed everything out. There was a lot of thought going into this process.”

One thought for Doss was wondering whether he had what it will take to play in the NFL. It would be safe to say it will take more than a great pair of hands. Doss readily admits his skills could use a little polishing. His versatility could also use some work because he will be asked to do far more than catch passes.

A rookie receiver could be asked to return kickoffs and punts. He could be asked to tackle kickoff and punt returners. Doss has not had to play on special teams at UC Davis because of his value to the offense.

That may change in 2018, however. Doss played on the punt coverage unit Saturday as UC Davis concluded its spring workouts with an intrasquad scrimmage. He said it was a “mutual” decision with the coaches.

“Some people have said they are surprised that I don’t play on special teams,” Doss said. “I want to show I can do it.”

Want to bet he will?

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Cornerback’s service is worthy of a tip

Cornerback Vincent White leaps to deflect a pass intended for Darius Livingston in the UC Davis spring football game Saturday. The Aggies will reconvene in the summer to prepare for their Aug. 30 opener at San Jose State.
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