This is the third in an eight-part series breaking down the Cal Poly football team’s depth chart.
Who’s back: Burton De Koning and Tu’uta Inoke are established veterans poised for breakout seasons. The two fifth-year seniors each have played in 34 games during their careers — De Koning’s first 22 coming at Nevada — and that experience will be key early in the season. Linebackers coach Josh Brown said fourth-year junior Joseph Gigantino III is among a tight group of players competing for the third starting spot. This unit is tasked with replacing first-team all-Big Sky performers Nick Dzubnar and Cameron Ontko, and Brown didn’t hesitate when he said they’re taking the challenge personally.
Who’s new: Junior transfers Chris Santini (Boise State) and Charlie Davis (Laney College) are listed as backups to Inoke and Gigantino on the fall depth chart. Davis seems to have a particularly big upside, given his strength, speed and athletic 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame. The San Leandro native is coming off an 83-tackle sophomore season at Laney College, where he was chosen as the team’s defensive player of the year. There’s also a foursome of redshirt freshmen — Noah Letuligasenoa, Anders Turner, Arroyo Grande High graduate Grant Alton and Clayton Hibbert — competing for playing time.
Josh Brown’s take: “We talked about (replacing Dzubnar and Ontko) in our first defensive meeting. That’s our challenge. We’ve got to step up and play to that level and there’s been a lot of great linebackers who have played here.”
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Projected depth chart:
OLB: Burton De Koning, Sr., 6-2, 230. Noah Letuligasenoa, RFr., 5-11, 230. Anders Turner, RFr., 6-1, 195. Grant Alton, RFr., 6-1, 215.
ILB: Tu’uta Inoke, Sr., 6-1, 240. Chris Santini, Jr., 6-1, 221. Clayton Hibbert, RFr., 5-11, 215. Nikolas Navarro, Fr., 6-1, 235.
OLB: Joseph Gigantino III, Jr., 6-2, 220. Charlie Davis, Jr., 6-2, 215. R.J. Mazolewski, Soph., 6-0, 205. Zac Lofting, Fr., 6-3, 225.
What to watch: Tim Walsh said the coaching staff feels like the Mustangs are deeper at linebacker than they were a year ago. The question, he asked, is whether Cal Poly will be as good at the top end of the depth chart. Replacing the 267 combined tackles made by Dzubnar and Ontko will have to be a group effort. If Davis and Santini can get up to speed with the team’s defensive schemes over the next month, the Mustangs should have a strong five-man rotation. Letuligasenoa is one underclassman Walsh said he believes “is going to be a really good player.” Letuligasenoa is the third member of his family to play for Cal Poly, following his brothers, Lefi, a four-year offensive lineman, and Josh, a junior defensive lineman.
Previous depth charts: Wide receivers