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Decker's turn at UNH
Senior QB assumes job from star predecessors
Kevin Decker finally has the keys to the car. After sitting behind R.J. Toman for three years, nearly transferring away from the University of New Hampshire two years ago, and submitting a highlight performance as a replacement starter last year, Decker is, at last, the top quarterback on campus.
“I don’t know (if I’ve been) waiting, because I’ve been so active the last few years trying to help R.J. and just doing what I can to help, but it does seem like a long time ago that I was redshirting,” said Decker, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior from Armonk, N.Y. “It’s a nice changeup.”
That redshirt season was 2007, which was also the senior year for Ricky Santos, the quarterback who rewrote the New Hampshire
record book. Decker paid careful attention to Santos and how he went about his trade. And the next season Decker studied Toman as he took over for the larger-than-life Santos.
“I remember I was very impressed with R.J. because he never changed. He just did what he did at practice and he was so great at handling the pressure,” Decker said. “You couldn’t see the pressure that was on him and that was something he did great and something I hope to repeat this year.”
Toman didn’t have the same career as Santos, but he was still a three-year starter who led UNH to three straight playoff appearances and wound up second to Santos on several of New Hampshire’s career passing lists. So there will be pressure on Decker to live up to Toman’s production, as well as the natural pressure that comes with being the signal caller for the No. 10 team in the Football Championship Subdivision.
“My expectations of Deck are the same as they were for Ricky and for R.J.,” UNH Coach Sean McDonnell said. “And that’s distribute the football, listen to what we’re doing, take your reads, get the ball to people in open spaces, utilize what we do offensively, and keep the ball in our hands. The good thing is, he’s probably a step further than R.J. (was when he took over for Santos in 2008). He’s been in a game that’s meant an awful lot, so I’ve kind of got a feeling for what he can do.”
That game was last year in Daytona, Fla., at Bethune-Cookman, a 45-20 UNH win in the round of 16 of the FCS playoffs. Decker went 23-for-35 for 289 yards and three touchdowns and rushed nine times for 14 yards as Toman sat out with an ankle injury.
But it’s not only that game that gives McDonnell and the rest of the Wildcats confidence in Decker. They’ve seen him play, and play well, nearly every day at practice for the last four years. That’s why the team elected him a co-captain and why no one in Durham is especially concerned about the offense under Decker’s direction.
“Even though he’s been sitting behind R.J. Toman, he’s been in the playbook and every time he got a shot to play he performed well, so I’m just looking forward to seeing him play full time and see what he has,” said junior Dontra Peters, UNH’s top running back. “I trust him and I know he’s going to do great things out there. I think he’s going to be an exciting player to watch.”
“He’s fun to play with and we feel very comfortable with him at quarterback,” senior receiver Mickey Mangieri said. “I love catching his balls, I love blocking for him. I think he’ll do fine, I really do.”
Clearly, no one on the team holds Decker’s near defection against him. As a redshirt freshman in the spring of 2009, after Toman just passed for 3,110 yards and 28 touchdowns as a sophomore, Decker realized he’d likely be No. 2 for the next two years, so he began the transfer process. He was heading to Trinity College in Connecticut, a place where he knew he could play and one that was similar to Decker’s small high school, The Brunswick School. But he soon missed his team and life at UNH and returned to Durham that summer.
“It was a rough time and obviously I regret that,” Decker said. “But it was a great move coming back and I’m very happy with where we are right now.”
Decker’s happiness and ability will soon be put to the test. UNH opens the season Sept. 1 at Toledo, a Football Bowl Subdivision team that was 8-4 last year and went to the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl, where it lost to Florida International on a last-second field goal, 34-32. After that Thursday game the Wildcats travel to defending Patriot League champion Lehigh on Sept. 10. Then, after a bye week, UNH goes on the road for a third straight contest, this time to face CAA foe Richmond.
Those three road games will only magnify the pressure on Decker to handle the Wildcat offense like his predecessors. And he’s looking forward to it.
“We like it. We think it’s a challenge. It’s fun being road warriors and it’s fun going into those big atmospheres with just us against them and having about 50 UNH fans in the crowd,” Decker said. “And if we can do well on that road trip, it will give us a lot of confidence coming back home.”
By Tim O’Sullivan, Concord Monitor