The Cal Poly 2009-2010 football season brings change: a new head coach and staff, returning players stepping up to leadership roles and a different defensive strategy. But one thing hasn’t changed: the winning attitude.
“Every year you play football is different than the year before and the next year…It’s what you make of it,” said defensive end Gavin Cooper.
Cal Poly placed 12th out of the top 25 in the 2009 Any Given Saturday preseason poll. They finished eighth in the polls last season after being knocked out of the Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs by Weber State in the opening round.
The team is playing the Football Bowl Subdivision’s Ohio and San Jose State this year, along with old rivals such as UC Davis. They will also visit Weber State in the regular season finale on Nov. 21.
They’re getting ready for a competitive lineup with a new head coach, Tim Walsh.
Offensive lineman William Mitchell said he could tell he was going to like Walsh as soon as they met.
“I was like, Coach Walsh, William Mitchell,” he said. “He gave me a fist pump and said, “How you doing?”
Walsh brings a lot of energy to the field and is very involved with training, he said.
“He’s everywhere. He brings new life.”
Walsh has a 117-82 record and has been a head coach at the college level for 18 seasons. He spent the past two seasons as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Army.
From their recruiting to their personalities and availability, Walsh said the coaching staff is playing a big role in getting the team ready for the season.
“I’m big on our staff getting to know (the team) not only as players but as people,” he said.
New staff members include co-offensive coordinators Bryan Cook and Saga Tuitele, defensive coordinator Greg Lupfer and strength and conditioning coach, David Wood.
“They’ve been working on agility, speed, strength and power,” Wood said.
The team has a strong overall work ethic and is very committed, he added.
He is working with the players to improve for next year. Many players, particularly on the offensive side, will be getting increased playing time.
“I think we’ve been addressing their weaknesses by individualizing workouts,” he said.
While spectators and fans may wait anxiously to see how the team does without graduates Ramses Barden, Jonathan Dally, James Noble and Ryan Mole, the players and Walsh aren’t fazed.
“A lot of guys will have the opportunity to step up because the graduates are gone,” said Walsh. “Every year is different and we don’t know everything. It’s a continuous learning process.”
Tony Smith is favored as one of several candidates to replace Jonathan Dally as quarterback, but Walsh will make the final decision in August.
“If we were to play today, he would start,” Walsh said.
The offensive team is sticking with the same spread triple option strategy, but the defensive team has switched from former head coach Rich Ellerson’s double eagle flex to a more traditional 4-3 style.
The defensive players have adjusted really well, according to Lupfer.
“They don’t have to play so much man coverage; they can play some more zone coverage,” he said.
In addition to working out and running drills several times a week, the team has been spending time bonding, which Cooper said isn’t only fun but also helps the players perform better as a team.
“When you’re on the field, if you’re tight with a guy you’re a lot more willing to trust him and not throw him under the bus,” he said.
Football has meant more than bright lights, cheering fans and uniforms to the players. It has changed their lives.
“If I did not play football I would probably not be at this school… Without it I would not be the same person,” said offensive lineman Scott Winnewisser. “Without it I’d be the fat kid on YouTube dancing to some stupid song.”
The team will begin officially practicing with Walsh on August 17 and open its 2009 season hosting a Hall of Fame game against Sacramento State on September 12.
The opening game will be very exciting for the Mustangs, Walsh said.
“It’s our first game as a new football team.”