Cal Poly football, a new member of the Big Sky Conference, has begun spring practice hoping to improve upon its 6-5 overall and 3-1 conference records. Cal Poly, along with UC Davis, was extended an invitation to join the Big Sky as a football-only school. To welcome the upcoming season, the Mustangs will play their annual Green and Gold scrimmage on Saturday.
“We want to win the Big Sky,” head coach Tim Walsh said. “That’s why you play. We have competed against most of the teams in the past couple of years, so I think we are ready for the type of competition there is each and every week.”
The team’s spring practices typically start at 6 a.m and last as late as 9 a.m. A large reason the practices are held is to develop a greater understanding of the capabilities of younger players.
“It is the opportunity to get younger players a chance to play,” Walsh said. “Because we have some new guys, it’s also to get those guys caught up to speed. There has been a lot of improvement for a lot of guys that redshirted last year.”
Returning quarterback Andre Broadous is looking to take part in that improvement.
“I want to be able to build on last year,” Broadous said. “I have the experience now. I want to get better with the passing and have a better running year overall too.”
Last year, Broadous threw for nine touchdowns and rushed for a school record 18. Broadous had a passer efficiency of 136.7 along with 1,235 overall passing yards. This year, Broadous said he expects the team to build upon these strengths.
“We have some guys who are able to score from any part of the field,” Broadous said. “A lot of our younger guys got reps last year, and they will be strong this year.”
On the receiving side of Broadous’s tosses, Cal Poly’s triple-option offensive scheme is reliant on quick running backs. Mustang slotback Deonte Williams is set to start. Williams was fourth on the team overall in rushing yards and third overall in rushing touchdowns last year.
A big question mark for the Mustangs is in the receiver position. Lance Castaneda is expected to start at “Z” receiver. Castaneda had one touchdown last season that came in the overtime loss to Eastern Washington. He boasts a 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame to aid blocking skills and the athleticism to overpower corners in the red-zone.
Aside from Castaneda, it isn’t certain who will claim the other receiver spot. A potential candidate is Willie Tucker. Tucker had 256 receiving yards with two touchdowns last year. A third candidate is Josh Swaney who posted the fastest 40 time for Cal Poly at 4.5 seconds.
On the defensive side of the ball, Cal Poly will be without All-American cornerback Asa Jackson for the first time in four years. Jackson, a four-time all-conference selection, is drawing attention for the upcoming NFL Draft with his speed and overall football intelligence.
Junior Vante Smith-Johnson is expected to fill Jackson’s spot, and he has high hopes for the Mustangs.
“Our goal is to win the Big Sky,” Smith-Johnson said. “We need to take one game at a time. Everyone has a common goal this year and we are all bought in. We need to just get better as a whole. We are only as strong as our weakest link.”
The secondary hopes to continue last year’s strong performance as well. Bijon Samoodi looks to head the secondary despite sitting out a majority of spring practices. An offseason hip surgery sidelined him for the past few weeks, leaving his status for next year uncertain. Samoodi totaled 35 solo and 27 assisted tackles last year.
A strong spot for the Mustangs are their linebackers. Cal Poly returns junior Johnny Millard, sophomore Nick Dzubnar and senior Kennith Jackson. The three combined for 190 total tackles last year.
Cal Poly’s entrance into the Big Sky marks a big step in program history, no longer facing any Division II opponents. Cal Poly is slated to play University of San Diego at home on Sept. 1 to open the season. The Mustangs open conference play against UC Davis on Sept. 22.
“It’s extremely exciting we open our first Big Sky game against UC Davis,” Walsh said. “You got a rival game to start the season which will add to the excitement and we are going to start out 1-0 by beating Davis.”
The Green and Gold scrimmage will kickoff this Saturday at 1 p.m. in Alex G. Spanos Stadium.