SUMMER PROSPECTUS (pdf)
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly will open Fall Camp in July for the first time.
After compliance and positional meetings Tuesday, Coach Tim Walsh's Mustangs step onto the football practice field Wednesday afternoon for the first of 27 practice sessions leading up to the 2017 season opener Saturday, August 26, against Colgate inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
Cal Poly is opening camp two weeks earlier than usual for two reasons — the Week Zero game against Colgate and the NCAA's ban on two-a-day practice sessions. Teams are being allowed to open camp a week earlier this summer to make up for the lost practice sessions.
During the first week of Fall Camp, the Wednesday and Friday practice sessions begin at 2:30 p.m. while the Thursday and Saturday drills commence at 9:10 a.m. All practice sessions the remaining four weeks leading up to the Colgate game will start at 2:30 p.m. and all drills will be conducted on the upper artificial turf field of the Cal Poly Sports Complex.
There will be no practice sessions on Sundays. First practice with full pads will be on Monday, July 31. All practice sessions are open to the public.
2017 Cal Poly Football Season Preview
A fourth NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoff berth, a fourth straight No. 1 ranking in team rushing during the regular season, another top-five finish in the 13-team Big Sky (the fourth in five years as a member of the conference) and final national rankings of No. 21 by the coaches and No. 24 by the media.
That is upon what the 2017 Cal Poly football team will be building when Fall Camp opens Wednesday, July 26, armed with 13 returning starters on offense (five) and defense (eight) and 53 total lettermen on the roster.
They will be joined by 23 players who were redshirts last year along with 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.
Biggest holes to fill are at quarterback, three of the five positions on the offensive line, a pair of slot backs and five of the seven starters among the defensive linemen and linebackers.
Three assistant coaching positions also needed to be filled. Jim Craft has been elevated to the offensive coordinator position and will coach the offensive linemen, Dan Ferrigno was hired to replace offensive line coach Todd Spencer and will coach the wide receivers in addition to serving as special teams coordinator while Randy Stewart returns to Cal Poly after a 26-year absence to coach the safeties.
Dano Graves, who completed 63.4 percent of his passes for 1,485 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushed for 686 yards and nine more scores as Cal Poly's quarterback last fall, moves into the coaching ranks this year and will mentor the quarterbacks.
Finally, Aristotle Thompson, Cal Poly's slot backs coach and Recruiting Coordinator and Pro Liaison, also has added the title of Assistant Head Coach to his resumé.
The list of returnees 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.
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.
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. 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 Mustangs are 25-15 in their first five years in the Big Sky, have compiled a 117-63 record over the past 14 seasons, have won 60 of their last 78 home games (77 percent) and have produced a dozen winning campaigns over the last 16 years.
Cal Poly has been selected by the media and head coaches to finish fourth in the Big Sky Conference standings this fall. Also announced at the Big Sky Conference Summer Football Kickoff in Park City, Utah, was the 2017 All-Big Sky Preseason Team, with Protheroe and Kuperman representing Cal Poly.
A position-by-position look at the 2017 Mustangs:
Khaleel Jenkins (pictured at right) enters his junior season as the No. 1 signal caller on the fall depth chart. He has been used sparingly in his first two seasons as a Mustang, backing up Chris Brown in 2015 and Graves last year.
Khaleel made extraordinary growth in practice last fall as well as in spring camp," said Walsh, "and at 6-2 and 205, he's big for a quarterback and one of our best athletes. He needs game experience, no question about that, but our expectations are that he can run our offense. He is a good runner and an efficient thrower.
Jenkins started one game in 2015 against Portland State and appeared in four games last season with one incomplete pass and one carry for two yards. "Jenkins is definitely ready to take over, from maturity, athletic and knowledge standpoints" said Walsh, "and he has higher expectations for himself."
Backing up Jenkins are Daniel Prieto, a transfer from El Camino College-Compton Center, along with redshirt freshman Jake Jeffrey (Folsom) and freshmenKyle Reid (Los Gatos High School) and Conor Bruce (Garces Memorial High School in Bakersfield).
Lewis (pictured at left) averaged 9.7 yards on his 61 carries last fall and was the team's top receiver with 22 receptions for 375 yards, or 17 yards per catch.
"Kyle is one of the fastest players in the conference and should have a tremendous year," said Walsh."
"They all need to get a lot of reps in fall camp," said Walsh. "Those guys will get the majority of the snaps. We're also hoping to get Alex Suchesk back in the mix."
Suchesk, who rushed for 156 yards in nine games as a true freshman in 2015, missed the 2016 season with a leg injury and used the year for his redshirt.
Kori Garcia, a 1,000-yard rusher in 2015, completed his Cal Poly career with 2,885 yards, No. 6 in the record book.
Protheroe (pictured at right) and Mohamed provide a strong one-two punch in the Mustangs' offensive backfield behind the quarterback.
"You can't ask for any better guys than them," said Walsh, adding that tight end Reagan Enger (88 yards on 11 carries, one touchdown in 2016) also will carry the ball this fall.
As redshirt freshmen, Middleton carried just once and Gallo had no carries last fall. Nahhas, a redshirt in 2015, missed the entire 2016 campaign with a leg injury.
Also in the mix are Fox (10-122-1), junior Alex Egurbide, the transfer from Purdue two years ago, junior Victor Beglitsoff and redshirt freshmen Ryan McNab, Quentin Harrison and Daniel Sanchez along with walk-on Orlando Yepez (Palma).
"Koski and Smeltzer are both coming off shoulder injuries, but I feel real good about them and Fox," said Walsh, adding that Koski missed Spring Camp with an injury.
Tackles Nick Enriquez and Matthew Fisher along with guard Billy Shipman II were seniors and have been stalwarts on a Mustang offensive line key to Cal Poly's run of four straight seasons ranked No. 1 nationally in team rushing during the regular season.
Craft, who coached the offensive line at Portland State and was wide receivers coach for the Mustangs the last four years, is tasked with quickly finding replacements for the graduated trio.
Listed No. 1 on the fall depth chart are junior Sam Ogee (6-4, 275) and senior Colin Goebel (6-4, 280) at left tackle, sophomore Tyler Whisenhunt (6-3, 275) at right guard and junior Zach Shallcross (6-4, 275) at right tackle. Whisenhunt played all 12 games last fall, Shallcross 11 and Ogee eight.
Kuperman (pictured at right) returns at center for the second year in a row after playing at one of the guard positions in his first two years as a Mustang while Whitson tops the preseason depth chart at left guard, where he started all 12 games in 2016.
"I feel really strongly about the top six guys," Walsh said, "and there will be some spirited battles for their backups.
"Ogee, Shallcross and Goebel need to make big strides in fall camp," Walsh added.
Templeton High School graduate Ross Berry, injured in the Northern Arizona game in 2015 and sidelined the entire 2016 campaign as he continued rehabilitation of his leg, has retired from football.
With Jason Patterson, Marcus Paige-Allen and Kelly Shepard gone, Walsh said "a lot of guys will get a great opportunity to show the coaching staff where they are" this spring.
Elisaia garnered 18 tackles, including 4.5 for lost yardage, a year ago while Ferguson (pictured at left) earned 27 tackles and a pair of quarterback hurries.
Those who will try to convince the coaches that they should start or earn considerable playing time as backups include senior LJ Mealancon, junior Tiasamo Savusa and redshirt freshmen Sean Davitt and Chris Flood.
"All will get a lot of opportunities to show how much they have improved," said Walsh, adding that one or two players from the incoming true freshman class also could play.
Lone returning starter in the linebacking corps is Anders Turner at the Will spot, but he did not participate in Spring Camp due to injury. Turner notched 32 tackle in nine games a year ago, 6.0 for lost yardage, and a pair of quarterback hurries.
R.J. Mazolewski (pictured at right), injured in the second game a year ago and out for the rest of the year, returns as well, but also missed Spring Camp. The Mike linebacker was fourth on the team with 71 tackles as a sophomore.
Listed No. 1 on the fall depth chart are Jayson Lee and Noah Thompson at Will, Mazolewski at Mike and Nik Navarro or Mason Montgomery at Sam. Lee played seven games as a true freshman last fall, collecting 22 tackles. Thompson missed all but the opener in 2016 due to an injury. Montgomery made nine tackles and Navarro five, both in 12 games.
"We have high expectations for Navarro and there are a host of young players such as Matt Shotwell, Joey Ruiz, Lance Vecchio and Ryan Boehm (all redshirts in 2016) that I am anxious to see them play," said Walsh.
Charlie Davis, who notched six tackles in three games before he was sidelined the rest of the year with an injury, tops the fall depth chart at rush linebacker, challenged by senior Darren Adjei, who had six tackles in 10 games last fall after transferring from Bakersfield College.
"I feel really good about the depth we have at outside linebacker," Walsh added.
The deepest area on the 2017 Cal Poly football team, all four starters in the secondary return along with several reserves.
Nard was fourth on the team with 59 tackles, intercepted one pass, broke up two others and forced four fumbles, among the leaders in the Big Sky.
Rosales was fifth with his 47 tackles, intercepted one pass and broke up 10 others while Humphrey (pictured at left) made 46 tackles (5.5 for lost yardage), intercepted a pass and knocked away eight others. Griffin recorded 36 tackles and intercepted a pass.
Nickel back Aaryn Bouzos earned 26 tackles and intercepted two passes, one of them in the final minutes to preserve Cal Poly's win at South Dakota State.
"The secondary is as deep as it's ever been in my nine years at Cal Poly and depth is no problem," said Walsh. "The issue is that the production has been underachieving and we must improve this year."
Walsh points out the 271 yards per game passing surrendered by the Mustangs in 2016 along with 35 touchdowns, or nearly three per game through the air. Opposing quarterbacks completed 66 percent of their passes against the Mustangs a year ago.
Dominic Frasch, who made one tackle in two games before suffering a season-ending injury last fall, is the top candidate at boundary cornerback while Rosales, Griffin and Kam Dennis (nine tackles) are battling for the starting nod at field cornerback. Backups include junior Mekai Sheffie (24 tackles in 2016), redshirt freshmen Daniel Fox and Cameron Crump and sophomore Peyton Witcher. Frasch has been granted a medical hardship and will be a junior this fall.
Nard and Humphrey were the starting safeties last fall and will be challenged by sophomore Carter Nichols (19 tackles, one interception, three breakups), junior Aaron Johnson (three tackles) and redshirt freshman Lepi Lataimua.
"We are good from the standpoint of depth in the secondary, but we need to improve our production," said Walsh.
Sublette (pictured at right) averaged 36.8 yards per punt, made 54 of 56 PAT kicks, was perfect on all six field goal attempts with a long of 39 yards and kicked off 72 times, averaging 58.3 yards with 13 touchbacks in 2016.
Vega in 2015 made two field goals, a 23-yarder against Sacramento State and a game-winning 49-yarder at Montana, was 5-for-5 on PAT kicks and averaged nearly 60 yards on 15 kickoffs with three touchbacks. Last year he punted 10 times for a 40.7-yard average.
Nicolas Marrone, the third kicker on the Cal Poly roster, did not see any action in 2016.
Montgomery is expected to handle long snapper duties while Fox is the holder. Fox also will return punts while Lewis and Fox top the preseason depth chart among the kick returners.
A nationally televised Saturday afternoon Week Zero game against Colgate highlights the 11-game 2017 Cal Poly football schedule announced in March by Walsh and Mustang director of athletics Don Oberhelman.
The schedule features five home games, including a late August matchup against Colgate, and six contests on the road, four of them Big Sky Conference games and non-conference contests at San Jose State and Northern Iowa.
Cal Poly opens its 2017 campaign at home against Patriot League member Colgate on Saturday, August 26, with kickoff scheduled for 4 p.m. The game will be televised nationally on ESPNU.
The Raiders posted a 5-5 mark last fall with wins over Yale, Bucknell, Holy Cross, Lafayette and Georgetown, finishing third in the seven-team Patriot League with a 4-3 record. Colgate won the Patriot League crown in 2015.
"It's pretty cool to play a nationally televised game for your opener," said Walsh. "We'll get some national exposure and there are not many others who will be playing that weekend. It will be nice for our fans who can't make it to the game to be able to see us on television.
"Hopefully we'll make a national splash with a win and build some momentum for San Jose State," Walsh added.
The game with the Spartans, originally set for Thursday, August 31, has been moved back to Saturday, Sept. 2. It will be Cal Poly's seventh consecutive year playing a team from the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The Mustangs played San Diego State in 2011, Wyoming in 2012, Fresno State and Colorado State in 2013, New Mexico State in 2014, Arizona State in 2015 and Nevada in 2016. Cal Poly also played San Jose State in 2006 and 2009.
With the Week Zero game, the Mustangs will have byes on Sept. 16 and Oct. 14.
"A quick turnaround for San Jose State will be difficult, but two byes will help us," said Walsh. "You take the good with the bad."
In addition to Colgate, Cal Poly's other four home games, all Big Sky Conference contests with 6:05 p.m. kickoffs, are against Northern Arizona on Sept. 23, Weber State on Oct. 21, Portland State on Nov. 4 and Sacramento State on Nov. 11. The Northern Arizona game will be televised by Eleven Sports.
Homecoming is set for the Portland State game, with Parents and Family Weekend scheduled for the Weber State contest.
The Mustangs also play a non-conference game Sept. 9 at Northern Iowa, completing a home-and-home series. The Panthers visited Alex G. Spanos Stadium in 2015 and won 34-20.
Cal Poly's four Big Sky games on the road will be at Idaho State on Sept. 30, Southern Utah on Oct. 7, UC Davis in the annual Battle for the Golden Horseshoe on Oct. 28 and Northern Colorado on Nov. 18.
Cal Poly will not play Big Sky members Montana, Montana State, Eastern Washington and North Dakota in 2017. The Eagles and Fighting Hawks shared the Big Sky title in 2016 with 8-0 marks.
"I think it's overlooked that the best teams coming back are not Montana, Montana State, etc., as programs like Weber State and Southern Utah have made great strides in becoming some of the best in the Big Sky," said Walsh. "We will have our work cut out and take each week as championship week."
Cal Poly, 7-5 overall en route to its fourth Football Championship Subdivision playoff berth a year ago, is 25-15 in its first five seasons in the Big Sky, capturing the conference crown in 2012.
"We will have an opportunity to make a dent in the Big Sky," said Walsh. "We're going to play several teams that have made recent turnarounds. We need the support of our fans. Our players can't wait to get back on the field after the disappointing loss to San Diego in the playoffs last year."