A lavish new stadium, an eminent coaching staff, returning veterans and brand new talent sets a positive outlook for the 2007 Football season.
Unlike the 2005 season, the 2006 Cal Poly football team didn’t achieve a Great West Football Conference championship or a second straight NCAA Division I-AA playoff berth.
But despite their shortfall last season the Mustangs still chalked up some notable accomplishments. They achieved their fourth winning season in a row, landed a top-twenty finish in the national polls, and defeated rival UC Davis in “The Horseshoe Classic” for the first time since 1996, just to name a few.
Finishing last year’s season with their third shutout, a 55-0 victory over Savannah State in a non-conference game at Alex G. Spanos Stadium, they ranked No. 16 in the final Sports Network poll and No. 14 in the College Sporting News Poll.
Such success can be attributed to the 2006 team but also to head coach Rich Ellerson who will be entering his sixth year of coaching with a record of 34-23 at Cal Poly and with high hopes that his record will withstand its reputation this year.
“I expect we will play with great enthusiasm. I expect diversity,” Ellerson said. “I believe we have the people that will give us a great chance to overcome adversity and conquer every challenge.”
The players train year round in order to stay in for the season to come. Whether the players are at home on their own or in San Luis Obispo as a team, they focus on strength conditioning.
“We mainly stay active by performing our plays and staying in shape,” running back James Noble said. “Everyone on the team needed to work on something during the off-season to make this team better whether it’s improving a skill or simply just getting healthy.”
After making his name known by becoming the first Mustang ever to rush over 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, gaining 1,009 yards and seven touchdowns in 2006 after beating the school record with 1,578 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2005. The best part: The guy is only a junior.
According to Ellerson the coaches do their fair share of preparation as well. They are now making arrangements for training camp and game planning for their first few opponents.
“The next game is always the most important one but the opener is especially important,’ Ellerson said. “This year we open at Texas State. They have a great program and it’s a tough place to play so we need to have a successful training camp.”
The intensity will rise on August 8 with the start of training camp and yet the Mustangs keep their confidence level high.
“Our players are hungry to prove that we are playoff caliber,” said Payam Saadat, the Mustangs defensive line coordinator. “Our expectations are to play hard, play fast and play one play at a time.”
New potential talent will be the theme for the Mustangs this year. Fourteen seniors that were part of the starting rotation graduated last year giving newcomers a chance to prove they have what it takes.
“I don’t expect a newcomer to come in and play right away,” Ellerson said. “It happens sometimes though and we have a candidate or two this year, but I expect guys who have been in the program a couple years to take up most of the slack.”
Some notable returnees, according to Ellerson, are Martin Mares at strong safety, Fred Hives II, Daniel Bradley and David Fullerton at free safety.
New candidates Jonathan Dally and Ryan Mole will get their chance to show off their skills. Playing at quarterback, Dally is a transfer from Allan Hancock College, and running back Mole transferred in from Sacramento State.
Saadat said defense will continue strong with a core of returnees: Mark Restelli in the linebacker position, Ryan Shotwell, Jason Relyea, Sean Lawyer and Adam Torosian playing on the defensive line.
No matter if it is the dependable veterans or the promising newcomers, the most crucial phase of the season will occur prior to opening day.
“Fall camp is the time for us to focus on the fundamentals of offense, defense and special teams,” Saadat said. “We really want to spend time on those techniques that we feel are essential to our philosophies in those three phrases.”
To the players, the long-term goal is to get their hands on another championship and nothing less, but in order to do that they must accomplish some pre-season team goals.
“We must bond our team by taking in our newcomers and introducing them to our system, work hard in practice and stay healthy,” Noble said.
However, not all the pressure lies within the weeks of training camp alone, there is a lot to be taken in throughout the season as well.
“We are always tweaking our systems. Some of it is based on who we are playing and new things we are seeing from opponents,” Ellerson said. “Some is driven by your own personnel and their individual strengths.”
Opening day will be a vigorous one for the team considering they have a new and improved Alex G. Spanos Stadium to hype up their energy.
“Our first home game will be a great atmosphere for our team,” Saadat said. “I think Cal Poly definitely raised the bar with the new stadium and our guys will be real excited to play in front of the home crowd.”
Cal Poly will play one Division I-A opponent, nine Division I-AA foes and a Division II school, all-the-while aiming for a fifth consecutive winning season in the upcoming 2007 season.
“As a team we are looking forward to playing against whoever steps out on the field first,” Noble said. “More importantly we are just looking forward to playing the next play, whether that is in practice or during a game. We will worry about each team as they come.”