Apr 21, 2011, 4:29 PM EDT
2011 CAA Football Spring/Summer Feature Series
By Zach Burrus, CAA Communications
Rock ‘N Roll legend Bruce Springsteen earned his nickname “The Boss” as the lead member of a short-lived band in the late 1960s that played countless club gigs in and around New Jersey in an attempt to make it big. Similar to his music idol, New Hampshire senior quarterback Kevin Decker will step into a boss role of his own this fall when he opens the season as the team’s starting QB for the first time in his career.
Like Springsteen’s success in the music industry, Decker’s road to the starting spot has admittedly been a long one. The native New Yorker, who has patiently bided his time in the backup role for three years now, thinks of the journey less in terms of time than an important opportunity to help the team grow. He says, “It was tough being the backup, but you can’t worry about that. You always have to push the starting guy to make him better for the team.”
The fact that Decker was not at all concerned about his own personal status but rather fully focused on the betterment of the team was important for the Wildcats, who in his four seasons in Durham have rolled to a 35-16 record that includes three consecutive Football Championship Series (FCS) quarterfinal appearances and the league’s top-rated scoring offense in 2009.
While Decker’s role during this run may not be evident in video highlights or in looking at his stat line, there is no doubt his presence has been felt on the sidelines. But now it is time for Decker to step off the sidelines and into the limelight, which he acknowledges will be a significant change from previous years. Nevertheless, Decker is ready to take the reins.
“It’s a big transformation. Everyone was looking to R.J. [Toman] last year and now I know that this year I have to step up and assume that role. I consider myself more of a natural leader though, which I think a lot of us do being so successful on the field throughout our lives. Being a quarterback since the age of six, you have to be a leader so it’s second nature to me now.”
And while it is perhaps not second nature, the starting role is not altogether foreign to Decker. He has played that part before, most recently when he was thrust into the starting spot just an hour before the Wildcats were set to take the field against Bethune-Cookman in the second round of the playoffs this past fall.
Decker laughs when he looks back on that December day. “It’s funny. My mentality heading into that game was that I was going to be the backup again, so it kind of hit me in the face when they told me I was starting.”
Decker’s showing against the Wildcats was no laughing matter, however, as he completed 23 of 35 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns. The outing was an important one for the then-junior. He explains, “To go out there and perform well meant a lot because I started a couple games before that but nothing like a second-round playoff game. It felt very good to go out and perform on a big stage like that.”
Thus, the UNH faithful has good reason to believe that Decker will turn in many encore performances this fall. He will likely receive a lot of help from his supporting cast as the Wildcats, who many prognosticators are already predicting as a top-15 preseason team nationally, return such offensive threats as All-CAA running back Dontra Peters and a number of key members up front on the offensive line. And with the return of All-Americans Matt Evans and Brian McNally on defense, the Wildcats appear primed to make a run at the FCS title in 2011-12.
Decker says that to get there, “We just need to keep doing what we’re doing. We’ve gone to the playoffs many years in a row now [an FCS-best seven in fact] and it starts in the offseason. It’s going to take us working harder than everyone else and knowing our assignments and alignments. We’ve got to be drill sergeants out there and get everything down to the best of our abilities.” He adds, “We’re all very focused and working very hard. I love the group of guys we’ve got. We have great senior leadership and I think we’re poised to have a good year.
Decker is clearly serious about the team’s capabilities this coming season, a side of him that can be likened to another star quarterback nearby in the Patriots’ Tom Brady. Like the good New Englander that he has become, Decker raves about Brady’s demeanor on the field and explains, “I just love his attitude. If you look at clips of him on the sideline, they’ll be up 21-nothing and he’ll be screaming, ‘We need more, we need more! Get to 35! Get to 42!’ I really like that about him.”
Don’t let Decker fool you though. Seriousness is not always his strong suit. A self-proclaimed clown, he notes, “I like to lighten the mood a lot. I might even turn to our center, Chris Zarkoskie, and drop a Bruce Springsteen line or something like that in the heat of the moment. I don’t like to be serious all the time because I feel like you get more things done when you have fun while you’re doing them.”
One of these fun things for Decker, who plans to get into media production after his football days are finished, is working with video highlights. If he cannot be starring in them, he may as well have his hand in making them great. And he is already well on his way after completing an internship with the Madison Square Garden Network last summer.
But for now Decker is wholly focused on leading the Wildcats to their eighth-straight playoff appearance and what he hopes is the program’s first-ever FCS semifinal berth this fall, which is just the kind of dream Springsteen was referring to in his hit ‘Badlands’, one of Decker’s all-time favorites, when “The Boss” says, “Talk about a dream, try to make it real.”
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