Graves, Garcia and Santini Earn Top Team Awards for 2016 Season

Offensive MVP Kori Garcia blocks for team MVP Dano Graves during regular-season game vs. San Diego.
Offensive MVP Kori Garcia blocks for team MVP Dano Graves during regular-season game vs. San Diego.

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. – Quarterback Dano Graves, slot back Kori Garcia and linebacker Chris Santini, all seniors, were the top award winners at the team banquet honoring the 2016 Cal Poly football team Jan. 22 at the Madonna Inn in?San Luis Obispo.

Graves, who finished No. 1 in the Big Sky Conference in passing efficiency, was named the team's most valuable player while Garcia, No. 2 on the team in rushing and No. 4 in receiving, was named most valuable offensive player. Santini, who notched a team-leading 106 tackles, 12.5 for lost yardage, earned most valuable defensive player honors.

Cal Poly finished the year with a 7-5 record, its 12th winning season in the last 16 years, and shared fourth place with Southern Utah in the 13-team Big Sky standings at 5-3. The Mustangs hosted an FCS playoff game for the second time, falling to San Diego 35-21.

Graves (5-10, 190, Folsom, Calif./Folsom High School) completed 63 percent of his passes (97 of 153) for 1,485 yards and 17 touchdowns and also rushed 157 times for 686 yards and nine more scores as the Mustang offense averaged 471 yards and 35 points per game this season.

Graves surpassed the 100-yard mark three times and was intercepted just four times.

Garcia (5-10, 195, Los Angeles, Calif./Santa Monica High School) rushed for 834 yards and six touchdowns and also caught 12 passes for 134 yards and three scores. Averaging 6.7 yards per carry, the third-team All-Big Sky performer was honored by the conference for a third time as he was a third-team selection in 2015 and a second-team choice in 2014 when he surpassed the 1,000-yard mark.

Santini (6-1, 230, San Jose, Calif./Leland High School/Boise State) made 68 solo tackles, including 2.5 sacks, and also was the team leader with his five quarterback hurries. One of four Mustangs named to the All-Big Sky first team, Santini (pictured at left) was a transfer from Boise State, a younger brother of former Mustang linebacker Michael Santini, was an honorable mention All-Big Sky player a year ago and was the team's most valuable player on special teams in 2015.

Walsh has guided the Mustangs to a 25-15 record in their first five seasons in the Big Sky. After three consecutive seasons as the top rushing team in the Football Championship Subdivision, Cal Poly finished No. 2 this fall with a 343.5 average.

Team captain awards were presented to Graves, Garcia, rush linebacker Josh Letuligasenoa (6-2, 263, Sacramento, Calif./Elk Grove High School) and middle linebacker Joseph Gigantino III (6-2, 230, San Jose, Calif./Bellarmine Prep).

Graves also was presented the team's most inspirational player of the year award while Santini earned the Mel Kaufman Award, given annually to the Cal Poly player who most exemplifies the virtues Kaufman became known for on and off the field.

A linebacker on the Mustangs' 1980 NCAA?Division II?national championship team who died in February 2009 after one year as Cal Poly's linebackers coach, Kaufman earned four Super Bowl rings with the Washington Redskins, three as a player and one as a scout.

Most valuable offensive back award went to junior fullback Joe Protheroe while senior Matt Fisher was named most valuable offensive lineman.

Protheroe (6-0, 225, Concord, Calif./Clayton Valley Charter School) was the team's top rusher with 1,334 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. He became Cal Poly's 20th 1,000-yard rusher for a single season and produced eight 100-yard games this season, raising his career total to 13. Protheroe also caught seven passes for 139 yards and two more scores.

Fisher (6-5, 280, Danville, Calif./San Ramon Valley High School), a tackle, anchored an offensive line that allowed just seven sacks in 12 games and helped the Mustangs finish third in the FCS in third-down conversions and passing efficiency and No. 7 in time of possession.

On defense, senior Kelly Shepard was named lineman of the year while junior safety B,J, Nard earned most valuable back honors.

Shepard (6-4, 255, Arroyo Grande, Calif./Arroyo Grande High School) made 18 tackles, broke up four passes, hurried the quarterback three times and recovered one fumble. He also returned his first career interception 63 yards for a score in the playoff game against San Diego and earned All-Big Sky honorable mention praise.

Nard (6-2, 212, Bakersfield, Calif./Frontier High School) made 59 tackles (43 solo), intercepted one pass and broke up two others. The 2015 All-Big Sky honorable mention and 2016 All-Big Sky third-team honoree also forced three fumbles and recovered one of them.

Senior wide receiver Carson McMurtrey earned the team's Legion (Snelling) Award, which goes to a team leader who plays hard during practice as well as in games and exemplifies being good on a daily basis. Hines caught nine passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns this fall.

McMurtrey (6-4, 205, Folsom, Calif./Folsom High School) caught 15 passes for 245 yards and three touchdowns.

Redshirt freshman slot back Raven Middleton (6-2, 204, National City, Calif./Sweetwater High School) was named most valuable player on Special Teams while redshirt freshman defensive back Carter Nichols (5-11, 180, Danville, Calif./San Ramon Valley High School) was presented with the inaugural Dale Barthel Award presented to a player who walks on, earns a scholarship and is honored not only as a player, but what he does in the classroom and as a young man.

Barthel, a defensive back and outside linebacker at Cal Poly from 1979-83, who played on the Mustangs' 1980 NCAA Division II national championship football team as a redshirt freshman, passed away in January 2015 after a long battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as "Lou Gehrig's Disease."

Other award winners include Nichols as most improved player of the year, freshman slot back Drew Hernandez (5-8, 175, Concord, Calif./De La Salle High School) as scout team offensive player of the year and freshman linebacker Matt Shotwell (6-0, 215, Goleta, Calif./Bishop Diego High School) as scout team defensive player of the year.

Nichols made 19 tackles, intercepted a pass in the Sacramento State game, broke up three passes and forced a fumble. In the 59-47 win over the Hornets, he led the Mustangs with nine tackles.

All team awards were chosen by the players.