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Davis, California

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Column: Almost-pro life

Ken O’Brien. J.T. O’Sullivan. Quincy Amarikwa. Urijah Faber.

These are just a few of the UC Davis alumni that have or are currently establishing themselves at the professional level of their sport.

It doesn’t end there, though. There’s a new class of Aggies looking to break onto the professional scene.

One member of that group is Daniel Descalso.

The San Carlos, Calif. native was the 112th pick of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Three years later, he is making a name for himself on the Memphis Redbirds, the Triple-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.

“It was always a dream of mine,” Descalso said of being one level away from the big leagues. “My junior year at Davis was when I realized I could pursue baseball.”

That year, Descalso batted .397 and was named to the NCAA Division I All-Independent First Team. Descalso believes that year, along with his overall career at UC Davis, are what’s helping him adjust to the pro game.

“Starting all three years at UC Davis in the competitive Big West Conference really got me prepared,” Descalso said.

At this point, Descalso can only wait for that phone call from St. Louis. Until then, he doesn’t plan on concerning himself too much with the idea that he’s so close.

“I’m trying to keep things simple,” Descalso said. “I’m trying to control the things I can control and have good at-bats. I’m trying to be ready and I’m just waiting for my call.”

Descalso’s story isn’t the only one of its kind, however.

Tommy Hernandez, former center of the UC Davis football team, recently signed a two-year contract with the Minnesota Vikings.

The local of Chino Hills, Calif. has been attending organized team activities this past month and has attended a rookie minicamp.

Like Descalso, Hernandez was a regular starter during his tenure at UC Davis, something he believes has helped prepare him for a career in the National Football League.

“Being able to start for 34 games in a row helped,” Hernandez said. “That in itself was invaluable. UC Davis prepared me for learning the game.”

However, these stories don’t come without the difficulties that go along with adjusting to the professional level.

Descalso struggled in his first year and a half in the minor leagues. He has turned things around since then and as a result, bats third in the Redbird lineup.

“I worked a lot with the hitting coach in High-A,” Descalso said of his turnaround. “I got comfortable with that and I took off.”

Hernandez, too, has had to work hard to adjust the speed of professional football.

“Practice is very fast paced,” Hernandez said. “The speed of the game is faster and everybody is competing. Guys are working their butts off showing what they can do.”

While transitioning from college to the pros is difficult, the fact is there’s no reason to worry about these guys.

Not only are they well prepared due to their time as Aggies, but they thrive on the idea that nobody thought they could make it this far.

“People didn’t really give me much of a chance,” Descalso said. “Here I am, 23 years old, knocking on the doorstep.”

It’s cool that a couple of UC Davis alumni are close to the pros (not to mention Bakari Grant who signed a contract with the San Francisco 49ers). But the truth is, in a couple of years, this fact won’t be that amazing.

Now, I’m not trying to minimize what these guys are accomplishing. What I’m trying to say is that, as UC Davis continues in the Division I era and keeps recruiting top notch athletes and winning more conference titles, you’ll see more and more Aggies making a run at the pros in all kinds of sports.

So yeah, Descalso, Hernandez and Grant are doing great things, but they are only the beginning of what will be a long list of UC Davis athletes to go pro.

Tommy Hernandez may or may not be snapping the ball to MAX ROSENBLUM’s favorite quarterback. Actually, Max’s favorite quarterback is now Aaron Rodgers. If you don’t get this, e-mail him at sports@theaggie.org.

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