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Several Energetic, Spirited and Close Battles Emerge for Starting Nods

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- With as many as 10 starting positions to be filled, Cal Poly's 2014 Football Fall Camp has been marked by numerous energetic and close battles between veterans, transfers and newcomers.

Many were put to the test during a 25-play scrimmage Saturday morning at the Cal Poly Sports Complex. There was no scoring and the offense had difficulty moving the ball on the ground as the defense rose to the occasion on several plays.

Highlighting the scrimmage were a sack by transfer linebacker Burton De Koning, a pass breakup by defensive lineman Colin Dzubnar, a forced fumble by Kevin Porche and fumble recoveries by Karlton Dennis and Samo Savusa.

Chris Brown hit Brandon Howe with a 35-yard pass, Dano Graves connected with Elias Stokes on a 15-yarder and freshman Kai Ross completed a 15-yard pass to Chris Nicholls. Freshmen Lance Mudd and Joe Protheroe broke off a couple nice runs.

Perhaps the most spirited battle for the starting nod from coaches is at quarterback. Last year's four-man contest was reduced to two this spring as Vince Moraga continues his recovery from a serious knee injury suffered in the second game of the 2013 season at Fresno State and Tanner Trosin transferred to American River College.

That left Brown and Graves, who combined for nine starts as sophomores a year ago, to challenge each other for first-team signal-calling duties when the season opens August 28 at New Mexico State.

"Both are playing extremely well in practice," said sixth-year Mustang head coach Tim Walsh. "A starter won't be named until game week. Both could play in the first game and maybe one won't, but both will get playing time as the year progresses.

"Both have tremendously improved their grasp of how the offense is to be run, and how they have handled it has been really fun to watch," Walsh added.

Graves, who started five games last fall, completed 45 of 75 passes for 416 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 367 additional yards. Brown, who started four contests, connected on 66 of 117 passes for 836 yards and 11 scores and was the Mustangs' No. 2 rusher with 685 yards and eight touchdowns, including a school quarterback-record 195 yards and three trips into the end zone against UC Davis.

Another key battle is at Sam linebacker vacated by Johnny Millard, who is now with the St. Louis Rams.

While Cameron Ontko will start at Will linebacker for the second straight year and Nick Dzubnar at Mike linebacker, also for the second straight year after starting at Sam in 2012, the Sam spot is wide open with Nevada transfer Burton De Koning and lettermen Nick Moyer and Tu'uta Inoke the leading candidates.

"All have played well at times," Walsh said of the trio's Fall Camp performance so far. "I wouldn't give an edge to anyone yet."

The defensive line lost ends Andrew Alcaraz and Nick Leyden plus eight-time All-American tackle Sullivan Grosz off last year's 6-6 squad, but this year's front line appears to be very versatile.

The battle on the right end of the line is between sophomore Josh Letuligasenoa and Washington State transfer Logan Mayes, but Mayes "can play both sides and inside as well," said Walsh. "He is extremely versatile.

Senior Jake Irwin likely will man the left end position, with sophomores Kelly Shepard and Colin Dzubnar slated for playing time as well.

The inside tackles will be senior Chris Lawrence and sophomore Marcus Paige-Allen, though Wake Forest transfer Andrew Hauser could start down the line and American River College transfer Tyler Alsey and true freshman Fino Elisaia are in the mix as well.

Senior Chris Judge, a redshirt a year ago after playing all 12 games as a defensive end in 2012, is still recovering from offseason surgery and, when healthy, could play at both end positions this fall.

Although three starters are gone from the defensive secondary, all four positions appear to be set as far as the starters. Juniors Chris Fletcher and Karlton Dennis are slated to start at the cornerback spots while seniors Dave Douglas and Jordan Williams will be the safeties.

The battles in the secondary are for the second string. Junior Fernando Cabico and a pair of transfers -- Cortland Fort from Wyoming and Dominique Love from New Mexico State -- are the cornerback backups while senior Trevor Weis, junior Kaulin Blair and Chabot College transfer Mike Thomas are pushing the starting safeties.

"There are a lot of things still happening on defense," Walsh summarized.

Senior Kristaan Ivory, who became Cal Poly's 16th member of the 1,000-yard club as he rushed for 1,113 yards a year ago and also was the top Mustang receiver with 33 catches, has been sidelined with a hamstring pull in Fall Camp, but likely will resume full-contact drills Monday. He will be lined up opposite sophomore Kori Garcia, who ran for 217 yards and caught four passes as a redshirt freshman in 2013, as Cal Poly's slotbacks this fall.

"Once Kristaan gets healthy, he and Kori will be playing a lot of downs together," said Walsh.

When both are healthy, sophomore Cam Akins and junior Jordan Hines will be the starting wide receivers. "But there are some guys like Roland Jackson, Kyle Lewis and others who can beat out those guys," Walsh noted.

The offensive line appears set with junior Stephen Sippel at center, junior Nick Enriquez and sophomore Derek Sabo at the guard spots and sophomore Matthew Fisher and junior Weston Walker at the tackle positions. Sippel, Fisher and Walker each started at least 10 games a year ago while Enriquez and Sabo are replacing graduated seniors Giovanni Sani and Lefi Letuligasenoa.

Senior Brandon Howe will start at fullback after backing up Akaninyene Umoh a year ago. Howe netted 271 yards and caught two passes in 2013.