In his final game as a Mustang, senior fullback Joe Protheroe entered the history books by setting the record for most rushing yards in program history with 4,271 rushing yards in his five year career at Cal Poly. Protheroe not only dreams of making it in the NFL, but plans to make it a reality. He made something out of nothing through his career at Cal Poly, creating his own motto: “It is what it is, onto the next chapter.”
Mustang News: Your name is going to be in Cal Poly Football record books, what do you hope having your name there represents?
Joe Protheroe: When we look back, our whole offense, every offense I’ve ever played behind was successful. It wasn’t just me. Having my name is history books is cool and 20 years from now, I can show my kids that I was pretty good at football. I would want it to be more of a motivational thing, like this dude bounced back from a pretty solid injury and made something out of nothing.
Mustang News: What was going through your head when your final game at Cal Poly was approaching?
Joe Protheroe: Just a lot of flashback memories of all the games I had here, all the people I play with and I’ve seen a couple hundred people come through here. I just remember being the young guy and now it’s crazy, I’m the old guy. My last practice was today and it was a little emotional.
MN: Your MCL injury has been a major obstacle in your football career here, so what have you learned from it?
JP: I just learned not to count myself out. When I was laying in bed injured, I was thinking, “Well damn, there goes my shot at a good senior season.” I was getting told that I wouldn’t be the same running back. Eventually, when I was able to walk and run on my own, I blanked everything else out and just started working hard, rehabbing my knee, and just worked hard on getting stronger and faster. I learned that it was a minor setback and minor setbacks and major comebacks are a real thing.
MN: When most athletes get injured, they think they are never going to be the same. What message do you have to other student-athletes who have gotten injured?
JP: My message to them would just be to not give up. People might say some things and think that you’re going to be a different athlete, but it’s all up to you.
MN: How did your friends and family help you get back into mental and physical shape for this season?
JP: My family – obviously, my wife, my kids – they’re the reason why I do everything that I do. Motivation-wise, I am motivated by them alone. Khaleel Jenkins was a big factor for me because he hurt his knee last year too. He’s like my brother and we just locked in and did what we had to do. It was great having someone go through the same struggles, so over the summer we could push each other to strive to be the best. He is an inspiration to me because he is so determined to go out strong this season and he’s currently playing on six injuries. He’s a solid person with a good attitude that’s contagious.
MN: What has been your favorite place to travel to? Throughout your career, you’ve traveled to many places. Which one place did you enjoy going to?
JP: Whoever had the best food. I liked going to Sacramento State. It’s back up North near home. The food there was good — chicken and some roast beef.
MN: What have you learned throughout your career here about life through football?
JP: People will go through adversity in life. It gives them a chance to be great. With some adversity, you can come back from it and be great at whatever you’re doing. Just fight through adversity.
MN: How does the team positively move forward when fans that do show up leave at half-time?
JP: It’s nice to have fans there, but we’ve got to a point where all that matters is 11 dudes on the field and the young guys on the sidelines with us. For me, I love having my wife and daughters going to every game because they are the only fans that really matter-matter, but it would be nice to have more people there.
MN: What was it like for you to have your dream of making it to the NFL become more of a responsibility for your family?
JP: You can look at it as a dream or you can look at it as reality. You just have to chase it. If you look at it as a dream, if you fail you can say, whatever, I was dreaming. If you try to make it a reality and don’t have a plan B, if you fail at that point which you probably shouldn’t, it’s life crushing. When I got injured, I was sure I was going to get my shot at the NFL that year. When I tore my MCL, it all got ripped away. My dream was crushed.
MN: Since it’s your senior year, would you like to give out any special thanks?
JP: To the football community, my brothers out there. I’m excited to go play my last game with them and I’m thankful for everything they’ve done for me. I’m thankful for all my coaches. I don’t really talk about it, but I don’t come from a lot of money back home and I came here with almost no money in my pocket and a pregnant girl. My wife was pregnant and we had almost nothing. Coach Walsh gave me an opportunity: my only scholarship offer which is why I feel like I owe it to him to try to ball out for as long as I’m here. So thank you to Coach Walsh. Thank you Coach AT, my mentor. Thank you to my whole O-line, every O-lineman I’ve ever been behind. Thank you to all of them.