SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Pain Today. Champs Tomorrow.
Printed on T-shirts, that is the motto for the 2017 Cal Poly football team.
Cal Poly's Fall Camp opened in July for the first time in program history and the 95 players will endure some pain for nearly five weeks instead of four prior to the season opener, but they will not have to endure any two-a-day practice sessions, outlawed by the NCAA a few months ago.
"Our players have shown a great attitude and I like the great work ethic shown so far," said Tim Walsh, who officially begins his ninth season August 26 with a nationally televised (ESPNU) Week Zero game against Colgate inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
Because of the Week Zero game as well as the elimination of double-practice days, Cal Poly opened Fall Camp on Wednesday, exactly one month prior to the opening game of the year. Under normal circumstances in previous years, practice would have begun in early August.
"We won't use all 26 practice sessions and we'll probably give the players more days off than before, so they'll benefit from that," Walsh said.
"I like the condition we're in," Walsh added, "and we have some youngsters who will definitely contribute for us this fall."
After four days of conditioning, the 13 returning starters on offense (five) and defense (eight) and 53 total lettermen on the roster along with 23 players who were redshirts last year, a bevy of newcomers, including a dozen walk-ons, and five players who missed the entire 2016 season due to injury or played three games or less prior to suffering season-ending injuries will don full pads for the first time Monday.
Last fall Cal Poly compiled a 7-5 record, finishing in a tie for fourth place with Southern Utah in the Big Sky at 5-3, and qualified for the FCS playoffs for the fourth time in 11 years. The Mustangs earned keynote wins over South Dakota State and Montana and, though Cal Poly lost three of its last four games, all three setbacks were against FCS playoff qualifiers.
The list of returnees for the 2017 season is headed by two-time All-Big Sky Conference first-team fullback Joe Protheroe, who enters his final season as a Mustang with 2,297 career rushing yards, No. 8 in Cal Poly's record book. He became the 20th Mustang to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season, accumulating 1,334 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2016.
Another fullback, Jared Mohamed (343 rushing yards, one TD), returns as well, the slot back corps will be led by Kyle Lewis (591 yards rushing, 22 catches for 375 yards, 10 total touchdowns) and the group of veteran wide receivers is topped by J.J. Koski (18 catches) and Kory Fox (10).
Harry Whitson returns at left guard and Joey Kuperman, a first-team All-Big Sky selection last fall, will snap the ball, anchoring an offensive line that also has several other veterans who accumulated significant playing time a year ago, including tackles Zach Shallcross and Sam Ogee along with guard Tyler Whisenhunt.
Both Protheroe and Kuperman were named to the 2017 All-Big Sky Conference Preseason Team earlier this month.
On the other side of the ball, returnees include safeties B.J. Nard (59 tackles, four forced fumbles) and Kitu Humphrey (46 tackles), cornerbacks Jerek Rosales (47) and Kevin Griffin (36) and nickel back Aaryn Bouzos (26 tackles, two interceptions).
The linebacking corps will be anchored by Anders Turner (32) and Jayson Lee (22) on the outside and R.J. Mazolewski, who was injured in the third game of the 2016 season and will sit out Spring Camp along with Turner. Charlie Davis (6), also injured in Game 3 a year ago, has been granted a medical hardship and returns for his senior year, likely replacing Josh Letuligasenoa at rush linebacker.
"Our first 11 players on defense are good and the depth at linebacker and in the secondary is really good," Walsh said after Saturday's practice session. "We're looking for some depth on the defensive line."
Practices, open to the public, will be held Monday through Saturday at 2:30 p.m. on the upper fields of the Cal Poly Sports Complex.