Twenty-one new football recruits officially signed with Cal Poly on Wednesday night, as the team looks to improve from last season and make a big impression in their first year in the Big Sky Conference.
Cal Poly won the Great West last year, but its 6-5 record indicated the team has room for improvement. The Mustangs, for example, haven’t beaten rival UC Davis in three years.
Head coach Tim Walsh said in a press conference Wednesday that he is excited for this new class of recruits, which includes the multi-skilled Elias Stokes from Paso Robles and Tanner Trosin, who threw for 5,000 yards, rushed for 1,000 and had the third best passer rating in the nation in his first year playing quarterback. Walsh said the coaching staff was successful in meeting the team’s deficiencies.
“We answered some of our immediate needs we had as well as our long term needs,” Walsh said.
The recruiting class announced Wednesday comprised of 11 linemen, four slotbacks, two wide receivers, two defensive backs, one linebacker and one quarterback. An additional lineman signed a letter of intent on Jan. 3 during the midyear junior college transfer period.
One major need Walsh said had to be addressed was at slotback. After the loss of seniors David Mahr and Mark Rodgers, the team needed some offensive threats that can complement Cal Poly’s triple-option offense. Mahr’s and Rodgers’ abilities to catch, run and make defenders miss in the open field had to be replaced, and the athletes recruited this year out of high school have the skills and athleticism that Walsh was looking for, he said.
Each of the four players recruited for the slotback position played multiple positions in high school, which Walsh said will translate to becoming big threats on offense. One particularly versatile recruit Walsh mentioned was local standout Stokes, whom he called a “jack of all trades.”
“We signed three slot players, plus Stokes … who can play a lot of different positions,” Walsh said. “We can see him do a lot of the same things that Mahr did and hopefully do them as well, if not even better.”
Stokes, who will study kinesiology, proved to be a multi-skilled football player in his senior year, where he played running back, wide receiver and quarterback. He also returned punts and kicks, played as punter and was named to the ESPN Rise first team as a multi-purpose player.
Stokes said he is excited to be a Mustang, and he thinks he will fit in well with Cal Poly’s students and football program. One of Stokes’ goals going into next year is to make an impact right away.
“It’d be nice to get on the field, but I just want to contribute to the team in some way to make it better,” he said.
There are a handful of other recruits that Walsh said will help improve the team in the short-term. One of the primary goals of this off-season was to stock up on offensive and defensive linemen.
“We had 11 senior defensive linemen this year … and to replace those guys, that was probably a number one priority that we had,” Walsh said. “To sign three transfer defensive linemen and three high school defensive linemen … gives us the depth we think we need to have.”
The three transfer defensive linemen are also expected to play big roles on the field next season, Walsh said.
“We don’t take transfers to be standing next to me on the sidelines, so if we don’t think they can compete and compete immediately, it’s not a good, sound investment on our part,” Walsh said. “We’ve hit pretty good home-runs with the young guys we’ve taken as transfers, and this year bringing four … is a good indication … of the impact that they will have on the team immediately.”
Supplementing the defensive line will help improve Cal Poly’s defense, especially on defensive stops on third down and creating more turnovers, returning linebacker Johnny Millard said. Millard, a business administration junior, has seen the abilities of this year’s recruits and agreed that they will make a large impact.
“They have a lot of potential,” Millard said. “They’re going to be great in the future.”
Millard said he and the team are excited about next season, specifically because it will be Cal Poly football’s first season playing in the Big Sky, where they will play at least four more guaranteed conference games than they did in the Great West.
“(The Big Sky) will give us good exposure, and we’ll play against better competition,” Millard said.
Along with Cal Poly, UC Davis, Southern Utah and North Dakota will be leaving the Great West for the Big Sky. Walsh said with four of the best Great West programs joining the conference and having the opportunity to play talented teams such as Montana, Montana State and Eastern Washington will increase the quality of the conference, and help Cal Poly attract better recruits in the future.
One of the new challenges the Mustangs will face next season is playing eight conference games where anyone can beat anyone, Walsh said. As the defending champions of the Great West, Walsh said he knows there are expectations for Cal Poly to do well.
“We’re going to wear a target on our chest, and that’s one of the challenges that we need to realize,” Walsh said. “So when you play some of the schools in the Big Sky, and they understand that tradition we have here, we better be ready week in and week out to meet that obligation we have to excellence at Cal Poly.”
Walsh is confident
Cal Poly can shake things up in the Big Sky and be a contender.
“How cool would it be, our first year in the Big Sky to win a championship?” he said. “What a statement we could make? We think we have the opportunity to make that kind of a statement.”