There’s no special secret to Armando Deniz’s success. His 6-foot, 150-pound build doesn’t scream “quarterback.” The junior didn’t even take up football until five years ago and wasn’t drawn to his current position under center until his freshman season at Coachella Valley High School.
Even senior Nick Hernandez, whose lone job is to protect Deniz on the offensive line, wasn’t all in on Deniz at the start of spring practice after losing Darius Hulsey, who threw for 2,290 yards and 17 touchdowns while leading the Arabs to the playoffs a year ago before graduating.
“I’ll be honest, it was a little sketchy getting a junior as a quarterback,” Hernandez said. “Especially seeing who Darius was. … We weren’t all in sync yet.”
Amidst all the hype and all the stats that have come from being 3-0 – the only undefeated team remaining in the valley – Deniz understood the importance of being in sync from the start. He knows he can’t lead the Arabs back to the promise land by himself, and he doesn’t want to.
Coachella – the team, the school and the community – pride themselves in unity, Deniz said, and for now, he’s just happy to be the catalyst that brings the spark.
“It’s been different. A lot of people tell me I’m famous, but I just try to stay humble, you know,” Deniz said. “Do what I do.”
Move over, DJ Khaled, all this kid does is win.
Along the way, though, he’s put up some pretty impressive numbers that will start to open eyes across Southern California and even the state.
Through three games, Deniz has racked up 983 yards through the air on 65-for-100 passing, good enough for 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Those yards? Good enough for eighth in California among quarterbacks, according to MaxPreps.
And quietly, he’s now the head of the offense with the second-most yards in the CIF Southern Section, behind only national powerhouse Corona Centennial.
For Deniz, though, popularity around school and impressive rankings weren’t the goal of this season. He still doesn’t have a yardage mark to hit, and he’s not overzealous enough to promise a CIF championship with more than two months left.
He just wants the Arabs back on the map. Putting up eye-popping numbers is just a means to an end.
“This year, we can make a difference for this team and this city,” he said. “There’s a lot of potential, and I think every single one of us wants it and has the same goal.”
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Coach Brett Davis was already impressed with Deniz before the season began. The third-year head coach knew from watching his junior quarterback at the JV level that Deniz had enough skill and knowledge of the offense to put up yards and points.
What Davis is most impressed with now is the “zero” on his quarterback’s stat line.
“The biggest shock, for me, has been how he’s been cutting mistakes,” Davis said. “Last year on JV, he had a turnover almost every first drive. I don’t know what it was, but it was a common theme with him. This year, he hasn’t come close to turning the ball over.
“It was something we worried about. You always wonder about young quarterbacks. They always want to come in and be the hero.”
But when he knows he needs to be the hero, Deniz isn’t afraid to speak up and lead the Arabs to victory.
In the valley’s most exciting football game to date this season, the Arabs scored a touchdown with just seconds left to pull within 47-46 of Palm Desert on the road in Week 2, giving them an opportunity for their first win over the Aztecs in 17 years.
With plenty of faith in his young quarterback to go for a two-point conversion and the win, Davis called a timeout to discuss the possible winning play with his players..
“The five of us up front on the line were talking to him (Deniz), and he said he really wanted to run this play,” Hernandez said. “He said ‘Can I trust you guys? You guys can trust me,’ and he already had our trust, but we knew he had this, and we blocked as hard as we could, and he got in there.”
With a fake handoff and quarterback sweep around the end, the conversion was good, and Deniz was firmly on the map.
He became Internet famous, pulling in loads more votes in The Desert Sun’s Friday Night Hero contest than anyone ever had and winning two weeks in a row.
But somehow, the hype hasn’t gone to his head, to the relief of his coaches and teammates. Deniz is still the humble, soft-spoken junior who just wants to win and will do any and everything to get there.
“With increased success comes more attention to you, and you’ve got to find a way to be humble. That can be tough for kids today,” Davis said. “I think he’s done a good job with it. He doesn’t look much different walking around campus.”
“I can tell, in his mind, it’s still week one for him,” Hernandez said. “He hasn’t proven anything yet, and he’s going to continue to play as hard as he can, whether he has a 300-yard game or anything else.”
With Deniz’s community-first attitude, no Friday night will be bigger than Sept. 16.
Since playing some on defense in the Arabs’ win over Indio in the Bell Game a year ago, Deniz has had this game circled for quite some time.
“It’s awesome. It’s a big hype, a lot of people screaming, just hyped, gets you pumped,” he said.
But the Bell Game is much more than a football game, he adds. The rivalry, the community pride, rallying around each other in pursuit of victory, it exemplifies the best side of Coachella, Deniz said.
“We just give a lot of support to the community by winning,” he said. “They’re watching the games, and when we put on a show for them, they come and support us.”
So on Friday, and in the games to come, Deniz will charge onto the field and do what he does. Maybe he’ll break records, maybe he and his teammates will bring home some hardware this December, but his biggest focus is rallying around his city.
Because before anyone knew who he was, his coach, his teammates and the Arab fans rallied around him.
“He’s grown up here his whole life, and he knows what it means to people,” Davis said. “He told me that it was a dream of his, the day he stepped on campus, to make Coachella Valley a winning program. He knows what kind of talent we have on the east side of the valley, and he knows we can have a long-lasting winning tradition.”