Without a doubt, Jonathan Dally has one of the strangest “personal” entries of any player biography in the 2008 Cal Poly football media guide.
Most list activities like surfing, watching movies or playing video games among off-field pursuits.
Then there’s Dally’s.
“Has solved Einstein’s Riddle,” it reads. “Can finish Rubik’s Cube in under two minutes.”
It might not be all that strange to Dally, though. He’s always been about figuring things out.
Like how to fit in with his new varsity teammates entering his freshman year at Righetti High in Santa Maria when they didn’t know he was actually from the Pacific Northwest (where he had settled after being born in Fairbanks, Alaska and living in Las Vegas and Sacramento).
“Everyone was from Orcutt or Lakeview,” the senior quarterback remembers. “And I was from Seattle.”
Or how lettering as a guard in basketball at the prep level could contribute to his football mobility, which he used in 2007 to rush for 763 yards and 12 touchdowns – both team highs.
“You’ve got to know where to move and what’s around you,” he says. “It’s a lot faster game; the play never stops.”
Or heading into 2007, how to translate his leadership at Allan Hancock College, also in Santa Maria, to a four-year program two years removed from making an appearance in the quarterfinals of the Football Championship Subdivision (then Division I-AA) playoffs.
“When I jumped (to Cal Poly),” he says, “athletes were a little more bought-in because it’s four years; it’s not just everybody for themselves. They buy into a program.”
Or how to take advantage of arguably the FCS’ best supporting cast – one that he coordinated in 2007 to 487.1 yards of total offense per game, trailing only national champion Appalachian State.
“I’ve trained myself in pre-game (preparation) and in film (study) to focus on what’s happening around me,” he explains. “I know (6-foot-6, senior receiver Ramses Barden)’s guy is 5-10 and if I throw it at a certain height, there’s a margin for error that way. I know Tre’dale (Tolver, a senior receiver and NCAA West Regional 100-meter dash qualifier) is a lot faster than the guy on him, so there’s a margin for error over there.”
Occasionally, he’s even been able to figure out exactly what his coaches are thinking.
“He’s so much on the same wavelength with (offensive coordinator) Ian (Shields) and myself,” Mustangs head coach Rich Ellerson says, “we’ll be getting ready to say something to him coming off the field and he’ll answer the question before we can even get it out. He’s that much in sync.”
Such praise wasn’t always a given, though.
“Everybody throughout high school and junior college would say, ‘There’s this D-III school in Oregon – you’d do great up there,’ or ‘Occidental, you’d be able to play in their offense,’ ” Dally remembers. “I just wanted a little bit more. I knew if I wasn’t going to go to a D-I football program, football probably wasn’t it for me.”
A connection closer to home sparked the possibility of playing at Cal Poly.
Mustangs senior running back Ryan Mole, an Orcutt native who was a year ahead of Dally when the two played together at Righetti from 2001 to 2003, broached the idea after transferring to Cal Poly from Sacramento State.
Because Mole switched schools within the same subdivision, he had to sit out 2006, when he spent the time earning an associate degree at Allan Hancock, where his friendship with Dally grew.
“He was like, ‘Where are you going to go?’ ” Dally says. “I said, ‘Cal Poly, they’re kind of interested’ and he goes, ‘I’ll play for them.’ I was like, ‘You play for them, I play for them?’ and he was all, ‘Perfect!’ Ever since then it’s been a dream come true.”
Dally’s upbeat temperament seems the perfect complement to Mole.
“He’s a character,” Mole says. “He always puts a smile on your face, always makes you laugh.”
While that may be, his play has been no joke.
After completing 54.2 percent of his 192 passes for 2,238 yards and a school-record 29 touchdowns with just five interceptions in 2007, the 6-foot, 190-pound Dally was named by The Sports Network as the fifth-best quarterback in the FCS heading into this season.
He hasn’t disappointed, improving his accuracy and completing 62.9 percent of his 89 passes for 986 yards and nine scores with just one interception.
His efficiency rating of 187.1 is the best in the FCS. Coupled with his second-best 196.7 mark last season, he’s on pace to become the NCAA’s all-time career leader in passing efficiency, surpassing the 176.7 standard finalized by San Diego’s Josh Johnson last season.
The Mustangs (4-1), whose 40 points per game are fourth in the FCS, are ranked third in the FCS coaches poll and sixth in the Sports Network media poll.
Cal Poly’s triple-option attack has been so diverse that Dally’s 250 rushing yards (and five touchdowns on 67 carries) make him one of five Mustangs to have rushed for at least 149 yards.
“It’s not a matter of keeping them happy because they’re happy winning,” Dally emphasizes of his teammates. “We’ve done a great job recruiting people who don’t want the ball, but are ready when they get the ball.”
While Dally’s selflessness may not have needed any development, his awareness was carefully honed by Allan Hancock head coach Kris Dutra.
“He really taught me how to throw on the run,” Dally says. “He taught me how to be patient and taught me if the play’s not right, calm down, because we’re going to run more plays.”
That composure was evident early at Cal Poly.
“He’s always focused,” Mole says. “He’s really cautious. He’s not going to make a pitch if he doesn’t think he can make it. He’s not going to make mistakes. If there’s nothing there, he’s not going to force it. He’s a really smart quarterback.”
It didn’t take long for Ellerson to notice.
“I remember in June (of 2007) – strikingly – him being on the perimeter over and over again on bootleg passes and sprint-out passes where he consistently was making the right decision with the ball,” Ellerson recalls. “He’s not just a cog here. He’s a make-it-happen guy.”
This season, he’s one of just seven FCS quarterbacks to have thrown no more than one interception, and has been at the helm of an offense that is fourth in the FCS in fewest fumbles lost, with two.
“With our style of play, with what we do, that’s unique,” Ellerson said of Dally’s lack of turnovers at the controls of a scheme with so many opportunities for mistakes.
The only FCS quarterback to commit fewer last season, Johnson, was chosen by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the fifth round of April’s NFL Draft.
The last signal caller from Cal Poly to be selected was Seth Burford, who was taken by the San Diego Chargers in 2002’s seventh round.
Could Dally make the transition, as well?
“I don’t even like talking about it right now because my job is to lead the Cal Poly Mustangs to a national championship,” he says. “But afterward, it’d be comforting to know I had a chance. If someone gives me a chance, I know I wouldn’t do them wrong by it. I know that I’ll make believers out of them.”
One thing he always had figured out was why he kept at it.
“If not, I’ve made great friends and I wouldn’t change anything,” he says. “I’ve had a lot of fun.”