Nov 20, 2018
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- Senior fullback Joe Protheroe is Cal Poly's first three-time All-Big Sky Conference first-team selection.
The record-breaking ball carrier from Clayton Valley Charter High School in Concord, Calif., was a unanimous choice on the all-league first unit and is Cal Poly's 15th player to earn first-team All-Big Sky honors.
"No one can match Joe's passion and love for the game. He truly loves the game of football," said 10th-year Mustang head coach Tim Walsh. "He plays with that love and passion every game and he is as tough as they come — big, strong and faster than people think.
"He is the quiet type of leader but, when he does speak, players listen," Walsh added. "He spoke immediately after the Montana State game and obviously we responded."
Cal Poly won its final two games of the season against No. 24 Idaho State and defending conference co-champion Southern Utah and four of six after a 1-4 start to finish 5-6 overall and 4-4 for a sixth-place tie with Montana in the Big Sky standings.
The Mustangs played the 14th-toughest schedule in the Football Championship Subdivision and faced eight teams who were ranked in the top 25 at one time or another this season, including No. 1 North Dakota State, No. 3 Weber State, No. 4 Eastern Washington and No. 5 UC Davis, along with Sacramento State, which received votes in a preseason poll, and 2017 Big Sky co-champ Southern Utah
Landing on the All-Big Sky second unit was junior offensive lineman Tyler Whisenhunt. A trio of Mustangs earned spots on the third unit — junior wide receiver J.J. Koski, senior center Harry Whitson and senior kicker Alex Vega.
Three others earned honorable mention praise. They were senior offensive lineman Zach Shallcross, senior cornerback Dominic Frasch and sophomore linebacker Matt Shotwell.
The league's 13 head coaches submitted the votes and they were not allowed to choose their own players during balloting.
Protheroe (5-11, 230, Concord, Calif./Clayton Valley Charter High School) capped a five-year Mustang career with nine consecutive 100-yard games, including four over the 200-yard mark, and shattered school records for rushing yards in a season and career.
His 1,810 yards for the year eclipsed the mark of 1,578 set by James Noble in 2005 while Protheroe's 4,271 career yards surpassed the mark of 4,205 set by Craig Young from 1996-99. Protheroe broke the single-season mark in the next-to-last game against Idaho State and the career record early in the third quarter last week against Southern Utah.
The two-time Walter Payton Award finalist finished No. 1 in the Big Sky in rushing — his total also is the most in the conference since Cal Poly joined the Big Sky in 2012 — and No. 1 in the Football Championship Subdivision. He currently is No. 2 in all of Division I.
Protheroe logged 23 career 100-yard games, another school record, and his five career 200-yard contests also tops the Cal Poly list. He scored 13 touchdowns on the ground this year, best in the Big Sky, and his 35 career rushing touchdowns are three shy of the school record.
Two more records he set are for carries in a season (363) and career (861). Protheroe is one of six Mustangs with a pair of 1,000-yard seasons, surpassing the mark with 1,334 yards as a junior in 2016. He missed the final nine games of the 2017 campaign due to injury and received a medical redshirt.
Cal Poly has had 22 1,000-yard rushers in a season, including Protheroe twice, and 25 games with a rusher over the 200-yard mark — Protheroe owning five of them, including a career-high 260 yards against Idaho State and 228 versus Brown earlier this year.
"Five years went by fast but he definitely has left his footprints on Cal Poly football," said Walsh. "Joe is one of the best players I've coached in 40 plus years!"
Protheroe also landed on the All-Big Sky first team in 2015 and 2016.
Second-team selection Tyler Whisenhunt (6-4, 265, San Ramon, Calif./California High School) played all 11 games on the offensive front, beginning the year at right guard and moving to left tackle with the injury to Sam Ogee.
He was part of a unit that allowed just 11 sacks all year, No. 3 in the Big Sky and 16th in the FCS, and helped Cal Poly to a No. 4 national ranking in rushing offense, No. 1 in time of possession and No. 5 in third-down conversions.
On the third unit, Koski (6-1, 195, Danville, Calif./San Ramon Valley High School) was Cal Poly's top receiver for the second straight year, catching 33 passes for 666 yards and four touchdowns. The junior was 11th in the nation in yards per reception with a 20.18 average.
Whitson (6-4, 298, Redondo Beach, Calif./Redondo Union High School) started every game at center after the team captain played at left guard during his first three seasons as a Mustang.
Vega (5-9, 180, Gilroy, Calif./Gilroy High School) produced a near-perfect senior season, converting all 39 PAT kick attempts and 11 of 12 field goals with a long of 41 yards. A total of 26 of his 60 kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. As a freshman, Vega kicked a game-winning 49-yard field goal with four seconds remaining in the season opener at Montana.
Among the honorable mentions, Frasch (5-10, 190, Bakersfield, Calif./Garces Memorial High School/Bakersfield College) led the nation and Big Sky in passes defended with 21, including a pair of games with four versus Brown and Idaho State), and also led the Mustangs with three interceptions.
Shallcross (6-4, 280, Anaheim, Calif./Servite High School) was a mainstay at right tackle all four seasons as a Mustang. Shotwell was Cal Poly's leader on defense with 90 tackles, finishing tied for No. 3 in the Big Sky with his 9.0 average per game.
UC Davis senior quarterback Keelan Doss earned Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year honors while Eastern Washington senior defensive tackle Jay-Tee Tiuli was named Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year.
In addition to Protheroe, Maier, Tiuli, UC Davis wide receiver Keelan Doss, Montana State quarterback Troy Andersen and Weber State return specialist Rashid Shaheed and inside linebacker LeGrand Toia were consensus first-team selections.
Shaheed, Tiuli, Toia, Idaho State wide receiver Mitch Gueller, Southern Utah center Zach Larsen and Weber State special teams player Brady May are repeat All-Big Sky first-team honorees. Protheroe is the lone three-time selection.
Weber State running back Josh Davis was named Big Sky freshman of the year while Montana quarterback Dalton Sneed earned new comer of the year honors.
Maier, also a finalist for the Walter Payton Award, finished the regular season as one of the best passers in the nation. He leads the Big Sky and ranks third in the FCS in passing yards per game (307.8) and passing yards (3,387). For the second consecutive season, UC Davis has claimed the top offensive honor, as he led the Aggies to a share of the league title and a playoff berth for the first time in school history.
Tiuli has 29 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss of 36 yards, 4.0 sacks for a loss of 30 yards, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. The Eagles earned a share of the league title and have advanced to the FCS Playoffs for the 13th time in school history. Tiuli is the first Eastern Washington player to earn defensive player of the year honors since J.C. Sherritt in 2010.
Sneed registered seven multiple touchdown games, including a season-high five touchdown passes. Third in the league in passing yards with 2,723, Sneed has completed 22 touchdown passes.
Davis ranks third in the FCS in all-purpose yards per game (170.00) and sixth in total all-purpose yards (1,700). He has seven games of 100-or more rushing yards and two games with 200-plus with a season-high of 225.
Co-conference champion Weber State placed 13 players on the first team, followed by Eastern Washington with five and Idaho with three selections. All 13 teams in the league had at least one player selected to one of the three teams. Eastern Washington and Weber State tied for the most all-conference selections with 18 apiece.
On Wednesday, Eastern Washington's Aaron Best and UC Davis' Dan Hawkins were named Big Sky Conference Co-Coaches of the Year. Both are in their second year as a head coach at their institutions, both are coaching at their alma mater and both have coached their teams to identical records of 9-2, 7-1 Big Sky.
Big Sky tri-champions Eastern Washington, UC Davis and Weber State along with fourth-place Montana State will represent the conference in the FCS playoffs, which begin Saturday. The Eagles, Aggies and Wildcats all earned first-round byes while the Bobcats will host Incarnate Word (UIW) in the first round.