On a picture-perfect Chamber of Commerce day at Doerr Family Field, Cal Poly’s 110 football players went through two hours of non-contact drills followed by a series of wind sprints Friday.
With the temperature at about 80 degrees and a light breeze taking the edge off the heat, the Mustangs showed their coaches they are well ahead of what they accomplished during Spring Camp in April.
“We’re definitely farther ahead than we were in the spring,” said 10th-year Mustang head coach Tim Walsh. “After doing this for 41 years, the first day is always a great day. I’ve never had a bad practice on Day One. Players came out with a lot of energy, the work ethic was excellent and we had a lot of repetitions. Pretty excited.”
While senior fullback Joe Protheroe missed the first practice as he and his wife welcomed their third child into the world Thursday night, senior quarterback Khaleel Jenkins completed his first official practice since an injury in the fifth game of the 2017 season last October sidelined him for the rest of the year.
How did Jenkins feel getting back onto the field?
“It was great to be back, I felt good,” said the Francis Parker High School (San Diego) graduate. “The start of camp kicked in and my legs started to feel a little bit, but I got to get right back into the swing of things. Overall, a fun day for sure.”
Jenkins underwent a pair of surgeries during the offseason, forcing him to miss Spring Camp.
“The surgeries went well,” Jenkins said. “Obviously there was a time frame in which I really couldn’t do too much. That was probably the hardest part mentally, not being able to get out there and be active. But now I feel great. I had a great summer. Now I’m trying to get back into shape, work with (strength and conditioning) Coach (Chris) Holder and get my mind ready and my body ready.
“I want to drop some weight and get back into a good playing weight and obviously get my strength back and my leg strength back in both knees and both sides, get more balance,” Jenkins added. “I need to start doing things that I could do when I was healthy as far as just getting better as a football player in the run game and pass game and overall as a leader for the team.”
“Physically, he looks great,” Walsh said of his signal caller. “As practice went on, he said he started to feel it in his legs a little bit because it’s back to doing all the pounding you have to do, the dropbacks, the sprints in our run game, all the things we ask him to do throughout our practices. So physically he was starting to feel it near the end, but he was pretty effective today. And the other thing people might not understand is that when you lose somebody like him, you lose your leadership, and having him back out here, his leadership and who he is and his positive energy, is always a great thing.”
Following compliance, athletic training and team meetings Thursday, the 46 returning lettermen, including 17 who started at least four games a year ago, began preparations for the 2018 season opener Sept. 1 at North Dakota State. A total of 26 redshirts, 11 squad members, 19 newcomers and some walk-ons were on hand for the initial practice of this, the 100th season of Cal Poly football.
With 25 practice sessions and 20 walk-throughs on the schedule over the next four weeks, is it time to worry about North Dakota State, Cal Poly’s season-opening foe Sept. 1 in Fargo, N.D.?
“Basically you are worried about your own team, but there are a lot of similarities between three or four of our opponents that you match into periods of drills, for example, on defense,” said Walsh. “We’ll run three or four periods where, in those periods, there are four or five teams that run the same things, so we’ll work on those things getting ready. We got a little jump on that today.”
Five of Cal Poly’s first six opponents are ranked in the various preseason polls already published this summer, with the Bison atop all of them so far.
"Playing some of the best teams in the country in the first six weeks, we will build on the positives, accept the challenges we have in front of us and do what we did in our first five years in the Big Sky — compete for a conference championship,” Walsh said.
"The keys for us will be how well we develop in our first three games, particularly the young players on defense and the return of three or four critical players who were injured last year, see how healthy they are and how well they will perform," Walsh added.
Protheroe played just two games a year ago. Also returning from injury are junior safety Carter Nichols, who missed the final eight games of 2017, and linebacker Anders Turner and cornerback Dominic Frasch, who each missed two contests. All practiced Friday.
"Having them back is encouraging, but having them back 100 percent is very important," Walsh said. "The first three weeks of the season will be very important in determining how we will be in weeks 11 and 12.
"We need to find out the personality of this year’s team and find ways to win,” added Walsh, in his 42nd season coaching football, starting as an assistant coach at College of San Mateo in 1977.
Practices will be held Monday through Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings for the next three weeks, including a scrimmage on Saturday, August 18, inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
After a couple days off, Cal Poly gets ready for North Dakota State on Monday, August 27. Kickoff against the Bison in the Fargodome on Sept. 1 is set for 12:30 p.m. Pacific. North Dakota State has won six of the last seven NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision national titles.
Cal Poly’s home opener is Saturday, Sept. 8, a non-conference game against fellow Big Sky Conference member Weber State at 6:05 p.m., and the Mustangs also host Brown on Friday, Sept. 14, at 7:05 p.m.
Cal Poly also will entertain Montana on Sept. 29, UC Davis on Oct. 20 (Mustang Family Weekend), Idaho State on Nov. 10 (Homecoming) and Southern Utah on Nov. 17 for Big Sky games, all kicking off at 4:05 p.m.
-Provided by Cal Poly