On Saturday, the redshirt freshman quarterback and sophomore fullback combined for 489 yards in total offense and all seven touchdowns as Cal Poly opened its 2019 season with a 52-34 victory over the University of San Diego.
The Toreros have won seven of the last eight Pioneer League titles and earned NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoff berths four of the last five years.
Hamler and Tran-Sampson were not fazed.
"It was my time to go out there and handle my business," said Hamler, who completed his first six passes for 211 yards and three touchdowns before halftime and added scoring runs of three and 38 yards. "I went out there and played accordingly. I didn't put too much pressure on myself. I just had to go out there and play my game."
Hamler was rewarded with Big Sky Offensive player of the Week, Cal Poly's Offensive player of the Week and Coca-Cola Cal Poly Student-Athlete of the Week honors. In addition, STATS FCS praised Hamler as an honorable mention National Freshman Player of the Week while College Football Performance Awards tabbed Hamler as an honorable mention National Player of the Week.
"I was prepared for the game and that helped with my confidence for the most part," the Lawndale High School graduate said.
Tran-Sampson didn't get the conference and national accolades accorded Hamler after rushing for 172 yards, averaging 11.5 yards per carry and scoring twice on runs of 87 and 34 yards.
"Honestly I didn't know what to expect," said the Claremont High School alum. "I was just trying to do my job every play."
Tran-Sampson ignited Cal Poly's 607-yard outburst in total offense on the Mustangs' second play from scrimmage, taking a pitch from Hamler and scampering 87 yards down the right sideline untouched until a Torero defender got a hand on him as he hit the pylon for a touchdown and a 7-0 Mustang lead.
"I definitely wasn't expecting to score on the first touch," said Tran-Sampson. "It was a fun one. Honestly it was just an outside perimeter play. Joe (Protheroe) ran that a lot last year but this year we're running it a lot more.
"Everyone did their job. Each guy (Lepi Lataimua, CJ Cole and Quentin Harrison) made the perfect cut. It was almost like a teach tape of what everyone should do. They just opened up the sideline and I took it and ran with it," said Tran-Sampson.
J.J. Koski made the final block near the pylon which allowed Tran-Sampson to get into the end zone.
Hamler was next, sprinting three yards through a big gap on the left side of the offensive line for his first Mustang touchdown and a 14-7 lead. That score was set up by Hamler's 65-yard pass to Koski.
Tied at 14-14 early in the second quarter, Hamler went to the air for three consecutive scores, hitting Koski with a 55-yard pass, Harrison with a 60-yarder and Koski again with a 23-yard scoring toss.
In the third quarter, Hamler kept the ball on an option keeper around left end, cut up the middle, shook off a tackle and raced 38 yards to the right pylon for his second touchdown on the ground.
Tran-Sampson completed the scoring for the Mustangs, sprinting 34 yards right up the middle untouched.
"I was completely untouched. It looked like the linebacker just filled the wrong gap and it was like parting the Red Sea, nothing but open grass," said Tran-Sampson.
Hamler finished the game with eight completions in 11 attempts for 221 yards in the air and 96 additional rushing yards on 17 carries, accounting for five Cal Poly touchdowns — three passing and two rushing.
"I know what I am capable of," said Hamler. "If they allow me to make the plays that were made, I can do them. It wasn't too much of a spectacular moment for me. I know this is what I can do and I can do plenty more of that."
Added 11th-year Mustang head coach Tim Walsh, "I'm not saying I was surprised or not surprised. If I was surprised about anything, it was the accuracy of his throws. Those were great throws, every one of them."
As he did at Lawndale High School, Hamler (pictured at right) showed a lot of poise and confidence despite the fact it was his first college start.
"His poise did not shock me," said Walsh. "The first time we met him in camp a year ago, we just saw a guy who had the "it" factor as far as being a quarterback.
"That it factor is good only when you can translate it into performance too," Walsh added. "When he has the kind of performance that he had running the ball, running the option … all the decisions he made were amazing with running the option part of the game. His throws were accurate and on time and his energy — never once was it like 'I have arrived' or any of that stuff. He just played the game so fluidly. It was just fun to watch a redshirt freshman be able to do that."
Can Hamler do it again this weekend at Weber State, a Big Sky tri-champion and FCS quarterfinalist last fall with a 10-3 record and a three-game winning streak against Cal Poly?
"The key for him now is how do you come back from a game like he had last week and how do you do it again," said Walsh. "The very first game he plays, he becomes Big Sky player of the week and the offensive player of the week for us. Next thing is Weber State, which is going to be a different beast. He's going to have a whole different element of speed and size and and strength than was the case last week and he's going to have to be ready to meet that challenge."
The poise and confidence Hamler has for himself was exhibited in his career at Lawndale High School when he passed for 4,372 yards and 49 touchdowns with just six interceptions in 342 attempts and rushed for 1,437 yards and 21 more scores in two varsity seasons plus two games as a sophomore.
"We know he has that (poise and confidence), I really did," said Walsh. "I really felt he had the it factor back then. But the it factor is good only if you perform like he performed.
"Lots of guys have the it factor, but when it comes to performance, maybe they're a little iffy and the team doesn't buy into who he is and his leadership style," Walsh added. "Jalen is not cocky, he's confident. Jalen has a lot of confidence in his abilities. When he plays like that, as confidently and as well as he played on Saturday, his teammates see that and that creates confidence on your team."
Tran-Sampson (pictured at left) rushed for 5,054 yards and 41 touchdowns in his final three varsity seasons at Claremont High School. Averaging 6.9 yards per carry in his prep career, Tran-Sampson gained 1,860 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior, 1,669 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior and 1,525 yards and 14 scores in his sophomore season.
"When we signed Duy, he was a big tailback in high school who ran the 200 meters in under 26 seconds," said Walsh. "We had a big guy at running back who we thought could grow into a 215-, 220-pound guy, which he is now, with speed. And he proved that on the very first play Saturday.
"He's been a work in progress, but he got a lot of opportunities in the spring to show what he could do, and even last fall he got some reps when Joe didn't practice," Walsh added. "I think he's been more than ready for it, but there are some guys behind him that are still hungry to play."
"Duy is going to have to keep it up," Walsh warned. "He has the body type, he has the speed and he's got the willingness to block. He just needs to block better and that's going to come with time. He's not a finished product in any way shape or form."
Tran-Sampson showed flashes of his running abilities in the last two spring games at Cal Poly, netting 19 yards on six carries last spring and 42 yards on 11 trips in 2018. Those numbers, however, pale in comparison to his 172 yards on just 15 carries and two touchdowns against San Diego last week.
"It was a good feeling, but we've got a lot of games left and one game isn't going to determine anything," said Tran-Sampson.
Photos courtesy of Owen Main | www.fansmanship.com, Matt Brown | Matt Brown Photography, and Nathan Nybakke | Photography805.com