For junior linebacker Sam Denmark, playing linebacker is about more than the statistics and the accolades. When asked about the people on the team that others should watch this year Denmark is quick to point out the entire defensive line.
“They’re incredible, all those guys give credit to me, but they do all the work. I just get all the glory,” Denmark said.
According to his teammates and coaches, that’s just Sam- humble, understanding, and a great leader. The 6-foot-1-inch, 230-pound linebacker was voted a third team preseason all-American, one of six from the Southland Conference, and the only player from ACU. He was also voted first team preseason all-Southland Conference, as well as being a member of the all-Southland team last year.
Despite all of those accolades, he says his proudest moment was winning the Southland Conference Student-Athlete of the Year award in 2015.
“I take a lot of pride in my academic work, as well as my athletic accomplishments,” Denmark said. “Being able to put the school on the map and prove I’m not just an athlete, that meant a lot to me.”
Denmark is an all-around athlete who won state championships in both football and basketball in high school. As a senior in 2013 at Las Cruces HS in New Mexico, he had 155 tackles, including 10 tackles for loss. A two-way starter, he also caught 15 passes for 378 yards and six touchdowns from the tight-end position and led his team to back-to-back Class 5A state championships and a 23-2 record.
Linebacker coach and special teams coordinator Mark Ribaudo is quick to point out that his accolades are only part of his game, and that his qualities as a person make him the player he is.
“I’m more proud of some of the other qualities he has,” Ribaudo said. “His leadership, his work ethic, and his commitment to this team is unparalleled.”
Denmark also said that his goal this season was a conference championship. When asked about this, Ribaudo said, “that’s Sam in a nutshell.”
“You ask a lot of kids what their goal is nowadays, in the world we live in, and they’ll say something along the lines of 100 tackles, 50 catches, or I wanna be all-American, or drafted,” Ribaudo said. “The appropriate answer, the one a coach looks for, is a championship. That’s what separates Sam from 99 percent of students.”
That praise isn’t just limited to coaches. Nik Grau, senior placekicker for the Wildcats, picked up right where Ribaudo left off.
“He’s El Capitan,” Grau said. “But seriously, he is a great leader. He has all the traits in what you want from a leader. He keeps everyone accountable and pushes everyone to be their best, and he’s the same way off the field. He’s a great friend and someone I see doing great things on and off the field.”
However, people know Denmark, whether it be as an athlete, student, leader or friend, they can be sure that he will be right where he belongs, calling out plays to the Wildcat defense from the middle linebacker position.