Plenty of New Faces as Cal Poly Kicked Off Football Practice Monday
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- Five transfers and 19 freshmen were welcomed to the Cal Poly football practice field by 18 redshirts, seven walk-ons and 46 returning lettermen as the Mustangs held their first practice session of preseason camp Monday afternoon.
Linebacker Cameron Ontko of Wisconsin and defensive end Wesley Flowers of UCLA have transferred to Cal Poly over the summer months along with slotback Rocky Meszaros of De Anza College, placekicker Bobby Zalud of Arkansas State and linebacker John Andrus of Hartnell College
Four other transfers participated in spring drills, including defensive back Alex Hubbard of College of San Mateo and three defensive linemen -- Omar Omilabu of Laney College, Jake Irwin of Wisconsin and Barrett Wangara of College of San Mateo.
Cal Poly lost nine of 13 defensive linemen to graduation last spring while placekicker James Langford transferred to Cal. In addition, all four starters in the defensive secondary need to be replaced, including cornerback Bijon Samoodi, who will redshirt following offseason hip surgery.
"We had a lot of youthful enthusiasm on the practice field today, which gives us an opportunity to get better," said fourth-year Mustang head coach Tim Walsh, "but also led to a lot of mistakes, too.
"Andre Broadous threw the ball well, Lance Castaneda made several nice catches and Akaninyene Umoh is ready for a great year," Walsh added.
Areas of concern, however, are the offensive line, which lost three of five starters, along with the defensive line and defensive secondary.
"The key to our success this season is how well our offensive line gels," said Walsh. "We have five guys with a lot of playing experience on the line and they need to work well together."
Scott Winnewisser is now with the New Orleans Saints -- and received a lot of playing time in Sunday's 17-10 NFL exhibition win over St. Louis -- while Maurice McClure and Art Munoz graduated last spring. Geoff Hyde returns at center while Lefi Letuligasenoa is back for another season at right guard. The other three veteran returnees include Giovanni Sani at left tackle and Karl Winkelman and Mike Freeman at right tackle.
Though the defensive line was hit hard by graduation, the offseason recruiting period netted for the Mustangs several players who could step right into the breech, including Irwin, Wangara, Omilabu, Flowers and former linebacker Chris Judge.
"Those five guys are very athletic," said Walsh. "They are young and inexperienced, but will play well for us and be the cornerstone of our defensive line."
Sullivan Grosz returns for his junior year at defensive tackle while Wangara will battle sophomore Chris Lawrence for the starting nod at nose tackle.
Despite the loss of all four starters, the defensive backfield is not without experienced players. Nico Molino has 66 tackles and two interceptions in two seasons at Cal Poly while Vante Smith-Johnson was the Mustangs' nickel back a year ago. Also returning after a redshirt year is sophomore right safety Dave Douglas, who likely will play alongside left safety Hubbard.
"I feel confident with the cornerbacks because there is a lot of athleticism in that group," said Walsh, "and we are five deep at safety. I am looking forward to seeing what they all can do for us."
Cal Poly, which captured four of the eight Great West Conference championships from 2004-11, plays its first season in the 13-team Big Sky Conference this fall, beginning Sept. 1 against the University of San Diego at 4:05 p.m. in Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
The Mustangs will hold practice sessions Tuesday through Friday at 3 p.m. on the upper field of the Cal Poly Sports Complex. Practice on Tuesday will be helmets only, followed by shoulder pads on Wednesday and Thursday and full pads on Friday.
The first of seven double-day practice sessions is scheduled for Saturday at 9:45 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. Double practice sessions also are scheduled for Aug. 14, 16, 18, 21, 23 and 25. All single practice sessions of preseason camp will be held at 3 p.m. There will be no practice sessions on Sundays.
All practices are open to the public.
The preseason camp runs through Aug. 25 and, after a day off, the Mustangs begin preparations Monday, Aug. 27, for their 2012 season opener against the Toreros. Cal Poly was picked by coaches and media to finish fifth in the Big Sky while San Diego has been tabbed to win the Pioneer Football League.
On Sunday, all players attended team and compliance meetings throughout the day and underwent physicals.
Cal Poly claimed Great West titles in the conference's inaugural season, 2004, followed by conference titles in 2005, 2008 and 2011, sharing the final crown with North Dakota.
Cal Poly, Southern Utah, UC Davis and North Dakota have moved to the Big Sky Conference -- Cal Poly and UC Davis as affiliate members in football only and Southern Utah and North Dakota as full members -- while South Dakota enters the Missouri Valley Football Conference this fall.