Darren Denucci was comfortable that he had his future set when he left Utah for a two-year church mission in 2009.
The standout offensive lineman planned to continue his career at BYU. Those plans never came to fruition for Denucci, who spent a year at Snow College after returning from his mission, committed to Nevada, backed out of that pledge, took a year away from the game and finally found his landing place this week when he committed to North Texas.
Denucci is a late addition to the Mean Green’s 2014 recruiting class and will have three years of eligibility remaining.
UNT offensive coordinator Mike Canales, a former Snow assistant, and offensive line coach Mike Simmonds recruited Denucci.
“I definitely found the right fit,” Denucci said. “Simmonds played in the NFL. He and [UNT head coach Dan] McCarney are throwback guys. I want to coach, and I feel like they can help me with their contacts. It felt right.”
Denucci, who is 6-4 and 315 pounds, can play guard or tackle and was highly recruited both after his first season at Snow and in the last few months, even after he sat out a season.
UAB, Southern Mississippi, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State and Texas-San Antonio all offered scholarships, while several more schools showed interest once they found out over the last few weeks that Denucci was on the market again.
In an interesting twist, Denucci played left tackle at Snow the same season former UNT signee Justin Manu played right tackle. Manu never played for UNT after the school discovered that the span in which he had to complete his four years of eligibility had run out. Manu spoke highly of UNT when Denucci asked about the school and its program.
Denucci’s life has changed dramatically since he graduated from Bountiful (Utah) and headed out on his mission. He is married and at 23 is battle-tested, both in football and life.
“Being an older guy helps you in terms of becoming a leader,” Denucci said. “The coaches like that about me, and I like the fact that they had the highest team GPA in Conference USA last semester.”
Denucci says he can help UNT on the field, not only as a leader but also as a player.
UNT has four of its five starters returning on its offensive line and came out of spring practice looking for a fifth starter. Guard Shawn McKinney and tackle Ryan Rentfro were battling for that last spot.
UNT experimented with a lineup that had first-team all-conference guard Cyril Lemon at tackle. McCarney and his staff say that while Lemon can plan any of the five positions on the line, he is best at guard.
The addition of Denucci gives UNT another option to replace right tackle LaChris Anyiam, who graduated after last season.
If Denucci and Rentfro can hold down the tackle job, that would allow Lemon to move back inside and give UNT the additional depth McCarney has tried to build throughout his tenure.
Denucci says he is ready to contribute right away after his time at Snow, where he faced players like Randy Gregory, a former Arizona Western College standout who was a first-team All-Big Ten pick at Nebraska last season.
“When you are a junior college player, people expect you to come in right away and contribute,” Denucci said. “They expect me to earn a spot.”
The more Denucci learned about UNT, the more he felt like it was the right spot for him to pursue the goal of playing on the Football Bowl Subdivision level — a dream he has chased for years.
“I am ready to end it,” Denucci said of the recruiting process. “I felt comfortable with North Texas and want to play for the great coaches there.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.