John Denne grew up a St. Cloud State University football fan.
Denne, now a senior safety at Minot State University, attended high school in St. Cloud, Minn., and watched his older brothers - defensive standouts Mitch and Paul - play for the Huskies on Saturdays.
"I don't know if I ever missed a game when I was in high school and watching my brothers," Denne said. "I loved watching them play every weekend."
Minot State University safety John Denne makes a tackle against Concordia University-St. Paul last season at Herb Parker Stadium. Photo courtesy of Michael Linnell/MSU sports information.
When it came time to make his own college decision, the youngest Denne was torn between attending SCSU in a student-only capacity or suiting up for MSU.
"I still wanted to play football," he said. "I got hurt when I was a senior and didn't play much. I only played about three games, which was why St. Cloud - or anyone for that matter - didn't really recruit me."
Denne came to MSU to play, and he has accomplished that much. The fifth-year senior is a four-year starter for the Beavers (3-6), who host Denne's hometown school at 1:30 p.m. today at Herb Parker Stadium.
"I never would've imagined that I would play in as many games as I have," Denne said. "Early on in my career there were some injuries right away. I just stepped in and started and have been going ever since."
MSU defensive coordinator Joe Ford and head coach Paul Rudolph, who coached Denne's brothers at SCSU, wanted another player from the Denne bloodline.
"We knew what we were getting," Ford said. "We knew we were getting a great human being, a hard worker. When we got John, we knew the character thing wasn't going to be an issue."
Ford called Denne the "quarterback" of the defense. From his free safety position, he's in charge of getting his teammates aligned and in the proper coverage.
Denne's role could be particularly important today against the Huskies (5-4), who are led by two-time all-conference quarterback Phillip Klaphake.
"They've got pretty good skill," Rudolph said. "It'll be the best quarterback we've played from a run-pass standpoint."
Klaphake, a junior, completes 60 percent of his passes and has thrown for 23 touchdowns and six interceptions this season. He has also run for more than 50 yards in four games this season.
"He's a good player," SCSU coach Scott Underwood said. "He's able to do some zone-read things and run the ball and little bit, and he's a strong-armed kid who's able to get the ball to our receivers."
Today will mark Denne's final home game with the Beavers, and it's fitting that MSU's longtime leader in the secondary will get to match wits with one of the best signal-callers in the league. Against the hometown team that didn't recruit him, no less.
"He's a tough guy and the other guys really enjoy him," Ford said. "There's been an element of leadership there. He didn't say too much as a younger guy, but this year you've seen that. There's a culture you try to build, the things you want your program to be and I think John's an example of that."