UC Davis coach digs into draft

Caleb Williams would not be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft if Tim Plough had a say with the Chicago Bears. The UC Davis head coach has nothing against the former USC quarterback and 2022 Heisman Trophy winner other than he does not believe Williams is the best player available at the most important position in football.

Plough would select Washington’s Michael Penix Jr., who will likely have to wait until the second round to hear his name called. Mel Kiper Jr.’s latest mock draft has LSU’s Jayden Daniels and North Carolina’s Drake Maye following Williams. Kiper also has Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy and Oregon’s Bo Nix going ahead of Penix.

Tim Plough returned to UC Davis to become head coach after Dan Hawkins resigned.

Who is Plough to think he knows better than Kiper? Plough is widely regarded for his creative offensive mind. He was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at UC Davis before leaving in 2021 to take the same job at Boise State. He was fired four games into the 2022 season and joined Justin Wilcox’s staff at Cal as the tight ends coach in 2023.

Wilcox offered to make Plough the offensive coordinator after Jack Spavital left to take the same job at Baylor. Despite being flattered, Plough opted to return to UC Davis and become head coach after Dan Hawkins called it a career. The Aggies could not offer as much money as Cal, but job security is invaluable. Plough will no longer have to worry about moving his family every year or two.

“I was happy at Cal, but it was too great of a risk (to stay there). I couldn’t do that to my wife and (three) kids,” said Plough, who was a quarterback with the Aggies for four years and started as a senior in 2007. “(UC Davis) is where I really wanted to be. It made more sense for us as a family. This is a dream.”

Caleb Williams

His one season at Cal alllowed Plough to see Williams, Nix and Penix in action. Williams had the best performance of the three against the Bears, throwing for 368 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for two scores in the Trojans’ 50-49 victory. Nix and Penix each had four touchdown passes against Cal.

Penix would be Plough’s pick because of his poise in the pocket. “The NFL game plays from the pocket and he’s the most prepared,” Plough said. “He can move in a confined space and still be accurate. He’s the most accurate thrower and the best thrower of the group.”

Plough questions if Williams can function within the parameters of a playbook instead of continually trying to improvise. “It’s his athleticism,” Plough said. “He has the ability to make plays off schedule and make something out of nothing.. He played in Lincoln Riley’s offense (at USC), so he’s had the tutelage from one of the best offensive minds in the country.”

Nix completed 77.4 percent of his passes with just three interceptions last season, but Plough is not convinced Nix can thread the ball to receivers in tight coverage. Plough added that Nix is a proven leader who could be capable of stepping into an NFL huddle as a rookie and taking charge of an offense.

Finding a quarterback is the least of Plough’s concerns in his return to UC Davis. He recruited Miles Hastings to play for the Aggies in 2019 and will have the senior behind center in the fall. Plough will be calling plays after Mike Cody did so in 2023. Cody was promoted from offensive line coach to offensive coordinator after Cody Hawkins left his father’s staff to become head coach at Idaho State.

Hastings went from throwing for 3,048 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2022, when he was a first-team selection in the All-Big Sky Conference voting, to passing for 2,380 yards and 10 touchdowns with a caeer-high 10 interceptions last season.

Hornets try to stretch season

Sacramento State has not reached the end of the road, but the Hornets are facing a familiar pothole. Saturday’s 42-35 victory at North Dakota earned the Hornets a second game in the FCS playoffs for the third time since 2019, but they have yet to play a third game.

The Hornets will return to the Midwest for that second game this week and face third-seeded South Dakota in Vermillion. The Coyotes are 9-2 and rallied at home to beat North Dakota 14-10 on Nov. 11. Sacramento State and South Dakota will meet for the first time.

This season has not been like the past two for the Hornets. They brought an eight-game winning streak in the 2021 playoffs to earn a first-round bye and then lost to South Dakota State. They were 12-0 last year after a first-round win over Richmond and then lost 66-63 to Incarnate Word. The Hornets and Cardinals combined for 57 points in the fourth quarter.

Kaiden Bennett threw for 207 yards and rushed for 126 on Saturday to propel the Hornets to a 42-35 victory at North Dakota.

Sacramento State was lucky just to make the 24-team playoffs this season, much less receive a bye or a home game, after going 7-4 in the regular season and losing 31-21 to UC Davis in the Causeway Classic. That left the Hornets with a 1,743-mile trip to Grand Forks.

Finding their way to the Alterus Center was far easier than trying to figure out who would start at quarterback against the Fighting Hawks. Freshman Carson Conklin started the previous two games, but he was pulled at halftime against UC Davis with a 17-0 deficit.

Junior Kaiden Bennett threw three touchdown passes in the second half, the third making it 24-14 with 5:45 to play. The Hornets gambled on their next possession by going for it on fourth-and-12 at their 18-yard line, but Bennett’s pass intended for wide receiver Carlos Hill fell incomplete.

Lan Larison scored on a 12-yard run with 3:30 remaining for his fourth touchdown of the day to put the game away. The Aggies snapped a three-game losing streak against the Hornets.

Bennett’s start Saturday was his ninth of the season and he made the most of it. The Folsom High School graduate passed for 207 yards, ran for 126 and accounted for three touchdowns. The third was a 4-yard scamper for the go-ahead touchdown with 4:45 to go.

Tight end Marshel Martin IV wrapped his arms around Bennett at the 2-yard line and pulled him into the end zone. Bennett accounted for 63 of 75 yards during the seven-play drive by completing all of his three passes for 40 yards and gaining 23 on three carries.

Bennett has run for 100 or more yards in three games this season. He surpassed senior Marcus Fulcher on Saturday for the team lead in rushing yards with 578. Fulcher has 527.

Playing it safe can be risky

Hunter Ridley kicked a 33-yard field goal as time expired in the first half Nov. 4 to give UC Davis a 17-7 lead against Portland State. The Aggies launched the 13-play, 75-yard drive with 5:26 to go and had three timeouts, so a touchdown was hardly out of question.

UC Davis coach Dan Hawkins answered that question, however, after running back Lan Larison was stopped for a 3-yard loss on first down at the Aggies’ 33-yard line. Hawkins let 27 seconds tick away by not calling a timeout as soon as Larison hit the synthetic turf.

Junior Trent Tompkins leads UC Davis in receiving yards and is second in rushing.

By the time Hawkins called his first timeout with 2 seconds remaining, UC Davis had wasted nearly 3 minutes by not stopping the clock. Portland State tied the score with 10 points in the third quarter when UC Davis could have entered the fourth with a lead.

All of that was easy to dismiss after UC Davis won 37-23. Hawkins got away with playing it safe in a game the Aggies had to win to stand any chance of making the FCS playoffs. UC Davis kept its postseason hopes alive last Saturday with a 21-14 victory at Idaho State.

Sacramento State, Montana, Montana State and Idaho are assured of representing the Big Sky Conference in the playoffs by having seven victories and being ranked in the FCS Top 25. UC Davis is 6-4 and unranked, so the Aggies have one objective Saturday afternoon.

Sacramento State’s Josh Cashiola sacks Portland State’s Sam Huard.

UC Davis will have to snap a three-game losing streak against Sacramento State in the Causeway Classic to have any shot of making the 24-team playoffs. With so much on the line for the Aggies, Hawkins cannot afford to play it safe as he did with Portland State.

Doing so against the Hornets last season did not work. One example was in the second quarter after a punt pinned the Aggies as their 14-yard line. A 1-yard run, a 2-yard pass and an incompletion forced a punt that gave the ball to the Hornets at the 50. Two passes for 31 yards led to a 19-yard touchdown run by Asher O’Hara to give the Hornets a 17-3 lead. Sacramento State never trailed in a 27-21 win.

In 2021, UC Davis was shut out in the first three quarters of a 27-7 loss. The Aggies scored first in 2019 on Jake Maier’s 76-yard touchdown pass to Kris Vaughn and took a 17-13 lead into the fourth quarter. Kevin Thomson rallied the Hornets with a 51-yard touchdown pass to freshman Marshel Martin IV and a 33-yard scoring run with 3:04 to play.

UC Davis will face Martin, who hails from St. Patrick-St. Vincent High School in Vallejo, for the last time on Saturday. The senior had a 39-yard touchdown reception last Saturday in a 41-30 victory over Cal Poly. The score was his second of the season. Martin had 12 in 2022.

Hornets can slow Aggies’ roll

Troy Taylor certainly had a hand in Sacramento State flipping the script against UC Davis in the Causeway Classic. The Hornets are 3-0 against the Aggies since 2019, when Taylor returned home to resurrect a program that had been 4-15 in the rivalry since 2000.

Credit should also go to Andy Thompson, who was hired by Taylor as the defensive coordinator and continues to direct the defense in his first season as head coach. He knows what it takes to stop the Aggies and will likely stick with that strategy on Saturday.

Ulonzo Gilliam averaged 42 rushing yards in his last three games against Sacramento State.

Forcing UC Davis to abandon its running game will again be the key for Sacramento State. The Aggies must win to stand any chance of making the FCS playoffs and a one-dimensional offense is not going to bolster their chances of doing so.

UC Davis rushed for more than 80 yards just once in its past three meetings with Sacramento State. That one time was last Nov. 19, when the Aggies had 113 yards on the ground in a 27-21 loss. They averaged 203 yards in their other 10 games.

Sacramento State limited UC Davis to 73 rushing yards in 2021 and 63 in 2019. The Hornets opted not to play in the spring of 2021 after COVID-19 wiped out the 2020 season. UC Davis managed just one rushing touchdown in losing the past three meetings.

Ulonzo Gilliam left UC Davis after last season as the program’s all-time leader in rushing yards (4,617), touchdowns (51) and 100-yard games (22). He reached the century mark just once against Sacramento State, gaining 138 in the Aggies’ 56-13 victory in 2018.

That was the year when UC Davis shared the Big Sky Conference championship and advanced to the FCS playoffs for the first time. That was also a year before Taylor and Thompson were hired at Sacramento State to breathe new life into a morbid program.

Gilliam’s 138 yards in 2018 were 10 more than his total in his last three shots at Sacramento State. He managed just 61 yards in a 27-17 loss four years ago, 17 in a 27-7 loss in 2021 and 50 in a 27-21 loss in 2022. At least he reached the end zone in last year’s game.

Lan Larison

Lan Larison has been a frequent visitor to the end zone for UC Davis in 2023. And the junior could be just what the Aggies need to turn the Causeway Classic tide in their favor after being named Monday as the Big Sky Co-Offensive Player of the Week.

Larison rushed for 264 yards and three touchdowns in a 21-14 win at Idaho State. The Idaho native dashed 23 yards for the go-ahead score with 2:05 to play in a do-or-die game. Larison rushed for 255 yards against Eastern Washington on Sept. 23, but he sustained a knee injury in the second half and missed three games.

UC Davis faces another must-win game on Saturday against Sacramento State, which climbed to No. 10 in the FCS rankings this week. The Aggies and Hornets are both 4-3 in the Big Sky, but Sacramento State has the magic playoff number with seven victories.

Sacramento State will be joined by Montana (9-1), Montana State (8-2) and Idaho (7-3) in the 24-team playoffs. UC Davis could qualify with six wins, but a seventh would be nice.

The latest playoff projections by the College Sports Journal have UC Davis at No. 17 against No. 16 Central Arkansas and Sacramento State at No. 14 against No. 19 Holy Cross. That would give the Hornets a home playoff game for the third time in the past three full seasons.

Father knows best? We’ll see

Cody Hawkins had it made at UC Davis. Job security would be his as long as his father Dan was the head honcho. Hawkins joined his father’s staff in 2017 as a volunteer assistant to help out with the wide receivers, so no one could accuse his father of favoritism.

That changed in 2019 when Hawkins was named assistant director of football operations and recruiting coordinator – a job apparently intended for him when his father created it. Hawkins was promoted again in 2020 when he was named offensive coordinator.

Cody Hawkins wore orange as offensive coordinator at UC Davis so the players could easily spot him on the sideline. He now wears it as head coach at Idaho State.

How could Hawkins have asked for anything more at the ripe age of 32? He was directing an offense featuring players he had talked into playing at UC Davis. The Aggies went from averaging 28.3 points per game in his first season of calling plays to 35.9 in 2022.

UC Davis is averaging just 25.7 points per game this season, but Hawkins is not to blame. He left UC Davis last December to become Idaho State’s head coach. The Bengals are averaging 27.7 points a game and led all FCS teams in passing yards per game at 338.2.

Hawkins inherited a team that went 1-7 in the Big Sky Conference and 1-10 overall in 2022. Idaho State is 3-3 in the Big Sky this season. So is UC Davis, which is 5-4 overall and will have to win its final two games to stand any chance of earning a spot in the FCS playoffs.

That means Hawkins can knock his father’s team out of contention when Idaho State and UC Davis tangle Saturday in Pocatello. The Bengals are 1-6 against the Aggies, but Idaho State has a 42-41 win over Eastern Washington on Oct. 14 in its favor. UC Davis lost 27-24 to Eastern Washington on Sept. 23, leaving the Aggies at 0-11 against the Eagles.

Eastern Washington had won 12 in a row against Idaho State before squandering a 27-point lead Oct. 14. The Bengals trailed 41-14 with 1:48 to go in the third quarter, then scored 62 seconds later and three times in the fourth quarter to pull off an improbable victory.

Sacramento State is also 3-3 in the Big Sky, but the Hornets control their destiny because they are 6-3 overall and can virtually clinch a playoff berth Saturday at home by beating 1-5 Cal Poly. The Mustangs lost 48-13 to Eastern Washington in Cheney last Saturday.

Larison’s return fuels Aggies

Lan Larison celebrates with Jake Parks (60), Peter Povey (63) and Jordan Ford after scoring the Aggies’ first touchdown on Saturday.

Every college football team has a trick play in which a running back attempts to throw a pass. Lan Larison has throw six passes for UC Davis, completing three for 38 yards. Those paltry numbers do not strike fear in opposing defenses, but they know better than to ignore the junior.

Larison played quarterback at Vallivue High School in Caldwell, Idaho, where he attracted attention for his running prowess. His statistics as a senior in 2018 bear that out. Larison rushed for 2,373 yards and 27 touchdowns. In his spare time, Larison passed for 788 yards and nine touchdowns.

UC Davis made it clear when Larison arrived in 2020 that there would be little chance he would ever play quarterback. There was always the possibility of Larison throwing the ball on a trick play. And that led to a trick play in which Larison acts as if he will throw and then tucks the ball away to run.

That very play produced the Aggies’ first touchdown in Saturday’s 37-23 victory over Portland State. Larison was aligned behind quarterback Miles Hastings on second-and-goal at the 4-yard line. Hastings went in motion to the left, leaving Larison to take a direct snap. Larison cocked his right arm as if to pass and then bolted untouched to the end zone for a 7-0 lead.

Larison had only just begun. He ran for two more touchdowns for the first hat trick of his career. He also had his second consecutive 100-yard game by running for 136 on 25 carries. Larison carried the ball 49 times in those two games after missing three games with an injured right knee.

Lan Larison is upended by Portland State’s Michael Hurst.

The injury occurred in the third quarter of the 27-24 loss to Eastern Washington on Sept. 23. Larison’s departure likely cost the Aggies a shot at beating the Eagles for the first time in 11 meetings. He left after gaining 54 yards on nine carries to fuel a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that put the Aggies ahead at 24-20 with 6:24 remaining in the third quarter.

A 300-yard game was well within Larison’s reach after he finished with 255 yards on 22 carries, including a 78-yard touchdown dash in the second quarter. Mike Ichiyama is the only UC Davis player to rush for 300 yards in a game, doing so in 1994 against San Francisco State and Chico State .

Larison leads the Big Sky Conference by averaging 119.3 rushing yards per game. He ranks third in rushing yards (716) despite missing three games. Larison ran for 416 yards in 2022 as the understudy to senior Ulonzo Gilliam, who graduated as the Aggies’ all-time leading rusher with 4,364 yards.

UC Davis will need Larison to be at his best to stand any chance of making the FCS playoffs. The Aggies are 5-4 with two games to go and it usually takes seven victories to earn a postseason ticket. UC Davis and Sacramento State are among the six teams tied for fourth place in the Big Sky at 3-3.

Montana State, Montana and Idaho share first place at 5-1. Montana rolled past Sacramento State 34-7 on Saturday night in Missoula. The Grizzlies became the first team since Arizona State in 2019 to shut out the Hornets in three quarters of a game. Sacramento State is 6-3 and will likely get to seven wins when it faces Cal Poly (3-6) next Saturday at Hornet Stadium.

The Causeway Classic on Nov. 18 at UC Davis Health Stadium could very well determine whether UC Davis or Sacramento State makes the playoffs. The Hornets have advanced to the postseason in each of the past three full seasons. Sacramento State did not play when the 2020 season was wiped out by COVID-19 and turned into five games in the spring of 2021.

Big Sky race off to fast start

Vanden is the only MEL team to come within 20 points of Vacaville in three of the past four years.  The Vikings lost 35-17 to the Bulldogs two years ago, their last loss on their way to the state 3-AA championship.

Will C. Wood lost 34-31 to Vacaville in 2018, three years after the Wildcats humbled the Bulldogs in a 49-26 victory. The Bulldogs’ last MEL loss was 28-21 to Napa in 2016. Vacaville has won 27 in a row since then.

One week was all it took for the Big Sky Conference football season to be blown wide open. Three of the top four teams in the coaches’ preseason poll lost Saturday, proving again that predicting the order of finish before the first conference games are played is nothing more than premature propaganda.

Those three losses shuffled the FCS rankings. Idaho climbed from No. 10 to No. 6 by knocking off No. 4 Sacramento State 36-27.  The Hornets dropped to No. 9 with their first regular-season loss since 2021.

UC Davis tight end Josh Gale (81) keeps a grip on the ball as he celebrates with Ian Simpson (82) and Jordan Ford after his 6-yard touchdown reception last Saturday.

The Vandals enjoyed a 17-minute advantage in time of possession and contained Kaiden Bennett. The Hornets quarterback was held to 17 yards on 10 carries after running for 100 in each of Sacramento State’s past two games.

Idaho was predicted to finish fifth by the coaches and second in the media poll, so Big Sky coaches apparently do not know it all.  

Sacramento State was predicted to finish third. UC Davis was second, but the Aggies lost 27-24 to Eastern Washington to fall to 0-11 against the Eagles. UC Davis dropped from No. 15 to No. 20 in the rankings.

UC Davis maintained a 24-20 lead when the defense stopped Eastern Washington on fourth-and-goal at the 3-yard line with 3:08 to play in the third quarter. That forced the offense to take possession with bad field position.

Having to punt from the 3 when three plays produced nothing proved costly for UC Davis. Eastern Washington took possession at its 42 and marched 58 yards in nine plays to score the go-ahead touchdown.

Lan Larison rushed for 201 yards in the first half, including a 78-yard touchdown dash. The junior carried the Aggies to a touchdown on their first possession of the second half with nine carries for 54 yards. Miles Hastings capped the 12-play 75-yard drive with a 4-yard scoring pass to Trent Tompkins. 

That was the last series of the night for Larison, however. He sustained an undisclosed injury and could be out for “some time,” said Skip Powers, assistant director of athletics communications at UC Davis.

Larison’s departure allowed Vacaville High School graduate Darian Leon-Guerrero to get one carry and catch a 14-yard pass.

Hastings completed a season-high 75 percent (24 of 32) of his passes, but the junior averaged a 6.8 yards per completion – his lowest average in a game this season when he has completed 20 or more passes. Hastings had just one game last season in which he averaged fewer than 7 yards per completion.

UC Davis had a chance to tie it with 3:20 to play, but Hunter Ridley’s field-goal attempt from 31 yards was blocked. The sophomore had been 6-for-6 this season after a 41-yard field goal in the first quarter.

Saturday’s game at Cal Poly will be an opportunity for UC Davis to regain momentum. The Aggies have a six-game winning streak against the Mustangs and scored more than 40 points in three of those victories. 

Eastern Washington cracked into the rankings at No. 25 with the victory. The Eagles will host Idaho on Saturday.

Weber State was predicted to finish fourth by the coaches, but the Wildcats were whipped 40-0 at home by Montana State. The third-ranked Bobcats were predicted to finish first in the coaches and media polls. Weber State fell from No. 8 to No. 14 in the rankings.

Montana dropped from No. 11 to No. 16 in the rankings with a 28-14 loss at Northern Arizona. The Grizzlies were predicted to finish third in the media poll and sixth by the coaches. The victory was the first of the season for the Lumberjacks and their first in 15 games against a ranked opponent since 2018. 

The Grizzlies managed just 18 rushing yards in their first loss of the season. That was their lowest total since being held to 17 yards on the ground in a 17-10 loss to Weber State in 2019. 

Northern Arizona was predicted to finish eighth in the media poll and ninth by the coaches. The Lumberjacks will face another ranked team on Saturday when they travel to Sacramento State for a 6 p.m. game. 

Aggies are 0-10 against Eagles

Eric Barriere is gone, so UC Davis might have a fighting chance of beating Eastern Washington on Saturday night in Davis. And a win would be a first for the Aggies, who are 0-10 all-time against the Eagles and can blame Barriere for four of those losses because the quarterback made a difference in each of those four games.

In those four games, Barriere completed 101 of 150 passes for 1,324 yards and 10 touchdowns. He threw two interceptions and was sacked six times, including five in the Eagles’ 34-29 victory in the 2018 FCS playoffs. UC Davis, Eastern Washington and Weber State shared the Big Sky Conference championship five years ago.

Eastern Washington’s Eric Barriere had his way with UC Davis, passing for 1,324 yards and 10 touchdowns in four victories.

The five-point loss was the closest the Aggies came to beating Berriere and the Eagles. The playoff game came four weeks after UC Davis traveled to Cheney and was knocked out cold in a 59-20 victory. At least the Eagles were nice enough to shovel the snow from the red turf and provide sideline heaters for the Aggies.

Barriere threw for 285 yards and one touchdown, but the Eagles did not need anything more from him because they rushed for 370 yards and six touchdowns. Eastern Washington ran 94 offensive plays to 50 for UC Davis and had a 37:15-22:45 edge in time of possession. A 69-yard touchdown run by Tehran Thomas with 22 seconds to play in the second quarter left UC Davis trailing 21-17 at halftime.

Eastern Washington scored twice in the first seven minutes of the third quarter to blow the game open. Barriere’s touchdown pass came with 41 seconds remaining in the game, adding insult to injury for UC Davis. Why Barriere was still in the game with the Eagles leading by 32 points in the fourth quarter is anyone’s guess.

In the playoff rematch, UC Davis was 73 seconds away from its first victory against Eastern Washington after Jake Maier’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Ulonzo Gilliam. The Aggies passed on an extra-point attempt to tie the game and took the lead when Maier connected with Namane Modise for the two-point conversion.

Eastern Washington needed just 47 seconds to regain the lead. Berriere had a 29-yard run and then threw an 11-yard pass to Nsimba Webster. Focusing on Barriere cost the Aggies when Sam McPherson broke loose for a 35-yard touchdown run.

The next meeting came in April 2021 after the spread of COVID-19 led to the 2020 season being reduced to a five-game schedule in the spring. Berriere was 30-of-41 for 393 yards and three touchdowns. Two of his scoring passes came in the first half as the Eagles jumped out to a 16-0 lead on their way to a 32-22 victory.

It was more of the same seven months later when the teams met in Davis. Barriere was 34-of-54 for 411 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-20 victory. The Aggies finished the season with a three-game losing streak, falling 27-7 to Sacramento State in the Causeway Classic and 54-26 at South Dakota State in the playoffs.

Eastern Washington’s quarterback on Saturday will be redshirt sophomore Kekoa Visperas, who has thrown for 849 yards and five touchdowns in three games. The Eagles are 1-2 with losses to No. 2-ranked North Dakota State and Fresno State in double overtime. The Aggies are 2-1 and ranked 15th with their only loss coming at Oregon State, which is ranked 14th in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Six Big Sky teams are ranked in the FCS coaches poll and there will be two battles of ranked teams on Saturday in the first week of the conference season. Third-ranked Montana State will travel to No. 8 Weber State and No. 4 Sacramento State will pay a visit No. 10 Idaho. Montana is No. 11 and will travel to Northern Arizona.

Lineman keeps loyalty intact

Kyle Sentkowski’s 30-yard field goal broke a 14-all tie, but the Hornets did not have the lead for long. The Cardinals scored two touchdowns in the final five minutes of the first half to take a 28-17 lead to the locker room.

Mike Cody swears he did not have an ulterior motive in calling Jake Parks last September after the UC Davis guard learned his left fibula was broken. The 2022 season ended for Parks shortly after it started.

Parks went down in the season-opening 34-13 loss at Cal. He was not told about the severity of his injury until the next day. Parks was still digesting the bad news when Cody, the offensive line coach, called.

Jake Parks had no thoughts of leaving UC Davis after breaking his left leg in the 2022 opener and missing the rest of the season.

The Sept. 3 game in Berkeley could have been Parks’ last as an Aggie. The injury gave him  time to consider his options, one of them being to play elsewhere for his final season as a graduate transfer.

The only move Parks has made this season is from right guard to right tackle. He had started at guard since 2018, when he was a true freshman and the Aggies earned a share of the Big Sky Conference championship.

Look for No. 60 on Saturday night when the Aggies come home after a 1-1 start on the road to face Southern Utah. Cody is now the Aggies offensive coordinator and is thankful to have the senior as an anchor on the line.

“It wasn’t any question for Jake,” said Cody, who was a receiver with the Aggies in 2010-11. “In this day and age of college football, it’s tough to come back because guys want to leave for another school. Jake could play at 100 schools, but he’s very loyal. He wants to finish what he started here.” 

Cody had no intention during the call last September to broach the subject of Parks’ future and did not need to do it anyway. Parks beat him to it by answering the question without Cody having to ask it.

His degree in human development gave Parks a ticket to ride out of Davis. Tackle Kooper Richardson departed after the 2020 season to join his father Kris and younger brother Kaden at Sacramento State.

By the way, human development was not Parks’ original choice for a major. He declared for neurobiology, physiology and behavior, but that ambitious major is as difficult to navigate as it is to say five times fast.

And that is for a student who does not have to juggle practices, team meetings and weekend travel with studying. Parks can speak from experience because he was that student last year – with a broken leg.

Any athlete who has had a season-ending injury can attest to the feeling of being disconnected from teammates and coaches. There is also the inherent fear of losing playing time or a starting job.

The 6-foot-3, 285-pound Parks remained connected to the team by becoming a mentor for the offensive linemen. That was easier said than done because he wanted nothing more than to be smashing people.

“It was a big learning experience for me. I had to learn a new role for myself,” Parks said. “I did what I could to help the team and the offensive line. I still stay invested in the guys. They knew I was always there.”

Even as a senior, Parks has not changed his hairstyle since going with a mullet in 2018. He had no choice because he was a freshman and the older linemen thought mullets showed they were “down and dirty.”

“It was funny,” Parks said. “I’m going to be in the real world pretty soon, so you might as well have fun with it.”

Last Saturday’s game at Oregon State was not at all fun for the Aggies, who were routed 55-7 by the 16th-ranked Beavers in their worst loss to a Pac 12 team since losing 45-0 to Stanford in 2014.

“I told him I want to be here. He told to take my time because there was a lot to process,” Parks said. “I never had a thought about leaving here. The people and the culture of the program are why I want to stay.”

UC Davis coordinates offense

Cody Hawkins did not leave the cupboard bare when he left UC Davis to become the head coach at Idaho State. Mike Cody not only inherited the title of offensive coordinator with the Aggies after two seasons as the offensive line coach, but he also got the best quarterback in the Big Sky Conference.

Miles Hastings was a first-team selection to the All-Big Sky team in 2022 after leading the conference in passing yards with 3,048 and completion percentage at 69.8 (256 of 367). Hastings threw just six interceptions, the lowest total for a Big Sky quarterback with 240 or more passing attempts. He was also picked off six times in 2021 with 152 fewer attempts.

“I am the coordinator and get an all-conference quarterback with a 70 percent completion percentage. How lucky am I?” Cody said Thursday. “(Hastings) is special. There’s no doubt about it. I’m extremely lucky.”

Jake Parks is returning after missing nearly all of last season with an injury.

Keeping Hastings healthy will be a priority when the Aggies kick off the 2023 season Aug. 31 at Texas A&M-Commerce. Hastings started the last five games in 2021 after Hunter Rodrigues sustained a concussion. Rodrigues and Hastings were expected to battle for the starting job last season, but Rodrigues left the program.

Hastings survived 11 games as the starter last season because he was protected by the offensive line, which allowed the fewest sacks in the Big Sky with 11. Hastings was sacked seven times. The Aggies will have to find replacements for two offensive linemen who earned All-Big Sky honors in 2022 – tackle Nick Amoah (first team) and center Connor Pettek (second team).

The return of Jake Parks will make rebuilding the offensive line easier. Parks was selected to the All-Big Sky first team in 2021, but the four-year starter at guard was injured in the 2022 opener at Cal and missed the rest of the season.

Mike Cody

Parks had the option of leaving UC Davis as a graduate transfer just as tackle Kooper Richardson did after the 2020 season. Richardson felt as if he was no longer wanted by the Aggies, so he entered the transfer portal and went to Sacramento State to be reunited with his father Kris, the assistant head coach for the Hornets who also coached his son at Folsom High.

Richardson returned to UC Davis on Nov. 20, 2021 for the Causeway Classic and celebrated at his old stomping grounds after the Hornets beat the Aggies 27-7 to finish 8-0 in the Big Sky. Richardson now plays for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Canadian Football League.

Cody was never worried about Parks leaving because “it wasn’t any question for Jake. Once he found out about the (severity of the) injury, he said he was coming back. In this day and age of college football, it’s tough to come back because guys want to leave for another school. Jake could play at 100 schools, but he’s very loyal. He wants to finish what he started here.”

Speaking of starting, Cody’s coaching career began in 2012 at UC Davis as a graduate assistant after playing two seasons as a receiver with the Aggies. Cody transferred from Sierra College to UC Davis because then-Aggies coach Bob Biggs promised there would be opportunities for Cody to become a coach once he was finished as a player.

Biggs believed Cody had what it takes to be a coach. And he was right.