DALLAS — Last season was a breakout year for Trevor Denbow at SMU.
The former Corsicana star and District 17-5A Player of the Year and Golden Circle Del Thrash award winner played 12 games (eight starts) for the Mustangs in 2018, his first season on the Hilltop after spending 2017 at Navarro College.
Denbow made 41 tackles, including 3 ½ for loss.
Now a junior, the 5-11, 225-pound safety is ready to take those lessons from 2018 to deliver an even better season for the Mustangs, who look to reach their second bowl game since 2013.
“I had the opportunity to play. Now, I think that just gives me a lot more confidence to what we’ll face this year,” Denbow said. “Just having that experience, I think it could help me. It could help the team, me having that experience and just being able to go out there knowing he started a couple games last year, we have confidence in him.
“For myself, just having the confidence of hey, I’ve played. I know what it’s like. I know the tempo. Now here we go, get lined up and let’s play.”
Those contributions last fall as an SMU sophomore didn’t go unnoticed.
Earlier this summer, Phil Steele named Denbow to his preseason All-American Athletic Conference third-team defense, recognition this ex-Tiger is appreciates.
“It’s nice to get recognized. No matter what people want to say, rank you or whatever, you still have to strive to be the best you want to be,” Denbow said. “People can say what they want but that should only push you to go harder and be the best you can be.”
In 2018, Denbow also had a unique experience off the field with offensive lineman Nick Dennis, a former Navarro teammate. He and Dennis didn’t know each other really well at Navarro, but after spending the first semester as roommates in a single room made into a double, they’re now closer than ever.
“Yeah, it was a pretty small room. I guess that’s just how the dorms are,” Denbow said. “At Navarro, we didn’t talk much, offense/defense they weren’t communicating much. I knew who he was. We talked a little bit here and there. But living in a dorm with him, getting to know him was really good. I would say we got pretty close. You get to see each other every day, get to know each other. Yeah, it was a small dorm, but it was good, good times. I wouldn’t change it.”
Denbow and Dennis are no longer roommates as Denbow lives off-campus while Dennis is roommates with a fellow offensive lineman, but their friendship remains strong.
Another huge positive for Denbow and the rest of a talented SMU defense is that with this being year two of the Sonny Dykes era, everyone now knows exactly what to expect from him and from each member of his staff.
“I think it’s going to be good. Getting another year under Sonny, he’s set his foundation of what he wants in a team,” Denbow said. “I think the team has bought into that, built around what he wants to accomplish.
“Going into the second year, he wants the players and the coaches to have an understanding of what is expected. I think it’s going to be a good year.”
Denbow also feels quite at home in defensive coordinator Kevin Kane’s system, ready for whatever wrinkles or calls Kane decides to add to his base scheme. And he knows that increased comfort level across the entire defense is sure to manifest itself in great results this fall.
“Any calls, any formation that comes out, we’re able to make calls and adjustments just based on really the experience that we’ve had. Seeing how many practices we’ve been through, games, all that, you get a lot of experience, a lot of reps in different calls that he gives us, so we’re able to make calls easy,” he said.
“He’s adding our playbook in, kind of already know it, so as we’re going through it just giving us confidence and giving the coaches confidence knowing that we’re able to know what we’re doing, knowing our assignment, know our alignment and be able to play the way they want us to be able to play.”
Comfortable is the perfect way to describe Denbow’s first year-plus on the Hilltop. Not only did he quickly feel at home within the program and between the lines, but he also knows he and SMU have been an ideal fit, not only from a football and academic standpoint, but also in general terms.
That’s because Dallas is far enough from Corsicana for him to feel like he’s truly away from home but still close enough that he can see friends and family a lot easier than if he was several states away.
“It’s really been a great fit. Home is not far away and being able to be close to family, being far enough away that you still feel like you’re far away, it’s been pretty great,” Denbow said. “Having my family being able to be at the games, home games mostly, even some away games of ours that are in Texas they’re able to make, that’s awesome. Being far away from home is something that I didn’t really want, so having the opportunity to come to SMU and being still close to home is pretty awesome.”
Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco.