Nothing made Tom Hemmingsen appreciate football more than when he couldn't play.
The UC Davis senior wide receiver missed the 2012 season because of a broken left foot that required surgery.
"That was probably the hardest thing I had to go through," Hemmingsen said. "I'd been playing football since age 10 and hadn't missed a game until last season. I had been pretty lucky. But last season was horrible."
Though still a part of the team, things were much different as a civilian-clad sideline observer.
"What I missed most was going out and competing every day and fighting with my brothers to try to win," Hemmingsen said. "That's something you can't duplicate anywhere else in life."
Hemmingsen, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound graduate of Monte Vista High School in Danville, is making up for lost time. He's been a bright spot for the Aggies (0-4), leading the team in receiving with 22 catches for 239 yards. He has the team's only receiving touchdown.
Hemmingsen had nine catches for 86 yards in Saturday's 41-10 loss at home to Portland State. He had six catches for 87 yards in a 36-7 loss at Nevada on Sept. 7.
For his career, he has 85 catches for 1,001 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"Tom Hemmingsen has stepped up with his focus, his attention to detail," UC Davis coach Ron Gould said. "I remember in the Northern Arizona game his coming off the field and saying, 'Hey coach, get me the ball.' I love that. He's trying to do his part."
Hemmingsen contributed as a redshirt freshman his first college touchdown was a game-winner against San Jose State in 2010 and he was the team's leading receiver as a sophomore, when he was an All-Great Western Conference first-team selection.
This season, he's had to adjust to a new quarterback after Boise State transfer Jimmy Laughrea won the job over Randy Wright in the second game.
When Laughrea played the second quarter of the season opener at South Dakota in the DakotaDome, it sold Hemmingsen on the former Rocklin star's leadership ability and his passing and scrambling skills.
"I've played with some really good quarterbacks, but Jimmy's got a ridiculous arm," Hemmingsen said. "My high school quarterback, Brett Nottingham, was second string behind (Andrew) Luck at Stanford (Nottingham is now at Columbia), and Randy is a great quarterback in his own right.
"But Jimmy has tremendous arm strength and throws a really catchable ball."
Hemmingsen got a taste of Laughrea's velocity when he caught a touchdown pass that was called back on a penalty against South Dakota.
"I was running and looking for the ball but couldn't see it right away because we're in that funky dome with the lights and everything," Hemmingsen said. "All of a sudden, it's, 'Boom.' The ball is right there. It nailed me. I had no choice but to catch it."
Hemmingsen has become Laughrea's go-to receiver because of his sure hands. When he dropped a pass on the first series against Nevada, he said it was only the second drop of his career at UC Davis.
Hemmingsen has more than one-third of the team's receptions, but he'd gladly give them up for a win.
"It's all about the team," he said. "If I was just run-blocking the whole game and not catching any passes and we got the win, I'd be a lot more happy than if I had eight or nine catches and we got the loss."
Although the season has started poorly, a win Saturday in the Big Sky Conference opener against visiting Idaho State could jump-start the Aggies.
Said Hemmingsen: "If football teaches you one thing, it's that you are not going to lay down and fold."
Hemmingsen, an economics major, will graduate in December. While he knows he's going to miss football and the bonds with his teammates, he's ready to start a career.
He's leaning toward selling high-tech medical surgical devices.
"I got pretty interested in it after my surgery," he said. "To sell a product that could help someone get through their surgery or to recover faster from it would really be gratifying."
Call The Bee's Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.