Ryan Chartrand

As promising and versatile as the Cal Poly football program’s recruiting class is, head coach Rich Ellerson hopes his team does not have to rely too heavily next season on its 14 incoming players.

The Mustangs announced their signings last Wednesday. Ellerson said the lone player he hopes can have an immediate impact is Ryan Mole, a tailback who played two seasons at Sacramento State before transferring to Allan Hancock College and now Cal Poly.

“I would think Ryan has the best chance to step in and be in the mix,” Ellerson said Monday. “The freshmen, frankly, have to have some extraordinary ability to be on the cusp of getting some playing time. We have that every year, with the absence of some catastrophic injury. It’s better for their adjustment to college. It’s a real boon for them if they not have to play in their first year. Inevitably, one or two of them are going to find themselves in the mix.”

Mole, a Santa Maria native and Righetti High graduate, rushed for 858 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman at Sacramento State. As a sophomore, the 5-foot-10, 195-pounder had 944 yards from scrimmage and received second-team All-Big Sky Conference honors. He will have two years of eligibility at Cal Poly because he did not play at Hancock.

Cal Poly already has a deep backfield returning.

As a sophomore this past season, James Noble ran for 1,009 yards and seven scores. The Walter Payton Award candidate became the first player in school history to surpass 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons, rushed for a school-record 1,578 yards in 2005 and averaged 5.1 yards per carry in 2006.

In addition to the 5-6, 180-pound Noble, another junior-to-be, Fred Hives II, ran for 221 yards and two scores last year. The 210-pounder averaged 5.7 yards per carry and provided an effective, bigger change-of-pace back to the shiftier Noble. Hives II also played some fullback.

Mole is not the only former Righetti skilled-position star who will get some reps when Cal Poly begins spring practice Feb. 21.

Cal Poly announced in December that it had signed former Righetti and Hancock quarterback Jonathan Dally.

Aside from Mole and Dally, the Mustangs’ recruiting class is highlighted by versatility.

Greg Francis, a 6-1, 180-pound cornerback/free safety from La Habra, returned two kicks, two interceptions and one punt for scores last season. He made 85 tackles and picked off six passes as a high school senior.

Jarred Houston, a 5-10, 175-pound tailback/defensive back from Fairfield, brought back two punts and one kickoff for touchdowns in his final two years at Rodriguez High.

Ellerson said the likely reason Francis and Houston served as return men at their respective high schools was because their coaches probably trusted them with the ball in their hands, a sign he is encouraged by when looking at their prospects transitioning to the NCAA Division I-AA level.

“They both have those kind of ball skills that tell you they can play,” Ellerson said. “I love guys on defense that can catch the ball.”

Another prominent aspect of the recruiting class is Troy Shotwell, the younger brother of Buck Buchanan Award-winning linebacker Kyle Shotwell and sophomore-to-be defensive end Ryan Shotwell.

Troy Shotwell, a 6-3, 200-pound defensive end/tight end, will likely see more time on the defensive side of the ball. That’s where he racked up 86 tackles, 13 sacks and 21 tackles for loss as a senior at Dos Pueblos High in Goleta – where both his older brothers went.

“We believe in that gene pool,” Ellerson said.

Ellerson, though, said that Troy Shotwell was signed for reasons greater than his relation to two of the team’s top defensive playmakers in 2006.

“I’m excited about what (Troy Shotwell’s) future holds,” Ellerson said. “He’s a good player and athlete in his own right.”

The recruiting class also includes three San Luis Obispo County products – linebacker/H-Back Brandon Roberts and kicker Jacob West of Atascadero along with safety/wingback Jake Romanelli of Templeton.

Roberts, a second-team all-state pick by CalHiSports.com, was the PAC 7 League MVP this past season in leading the 9-2 Greyhounds to their first league title since 1997. He had 54 tackles, one sack and one interception – returned for a touchdown – this past season. He also converted six of his 24 receptions into TDs and ran for five more scores out of the backfield.

The 6-2, 190-pound Romanelli had 97 tackles, one interception, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and a sack this past season. He also accumulated 1,136 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns and averaged 8.4 yards per carry out of the backfield as a senior for the 7-4 Eagles.

“We know our area pretty well,” Ellerson said. “We really like Jake (Romanelli), known about him for a while. He was probably the heaviest-recruited guy in our area. I also felt like the kind of student he was, the kind of family he comes from, he fits so well here.”

Other players the Mustangs signed include defensive linemen Matthew Duffy (El Segundo) and Erich Klemme (Long Beach), offensive/defensive lineman Stash McGuinness (Pleasanton), defensive back Angel Morales (Ventura), receiver/DB John Yessner (El Segundo) and running back/linebacker Jordan Yocum (Anaheim).

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