It didn’t seem like Korben Boaz had much of a shot to see the field for the Cal Poly football team this summer.
Offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum kept the redshirt freshman out of the weight room and cast the former Nipomo High star as a mere shadow of his former self when the time came to impress Tim Walsh and his new coaching staff.
A rising favorite when he was practicing under former coach Rich Ellerson, the 6-foot-1, 250-pound Boaz just looked like an undersized and fragile nose guard in a linebacker’s body to the new regime.
And yet, there was Boaz on Saturday, making his collegiate debut in a backup role for the No. 19 Mustangs (4-3) in a 44-14 win over Division II Dixie State (4-5). Broken free from banishment to the scout team, Boaz even picked up three tackles and a sack.
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“As soon as I heard my number called, it was an extremely exciting moment for me,” said Boaz, who hadn’t played in a game since he was a Tribune All-County first-team performer with the Titans in 2007. “Unfortunately, it literally was a shock coming in because I didn’t really know what to expect. I did get thrown around a little bit, but I felt like I did what I needed to do.”
“I feel extremely fortunate I got the sack, but at the same time, I have so much to prove. I don’t just want to be a fourth-quarter, we’re-up-in-the-game type of player. I want to get to the point where I can be able to get a lot of time and be a solid backup.”
Boaz was one of many defensive backups to get extended playing time after Cal Poly took a 37-0 lead early in the third quarter.
Center-turned-linebacker Stash McGuinness was second on the team with five tackles. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Keaton Taylor made four tackles in his collegiate debut. And former Tribune County Player of the Year Logan Budd of Morro Bay High logged his first pass breakup.
Though there was playing time to go around because of the big lead, it still appeared at Sunday’s practice that many of the backups, including Boaz, still had a lot of work to do to get into a regular rotation.
“The speed of the game and all those things was a little different for him than playing on the shell team, and playing as a back-up defensive lineman,” Walsh said. “As the flow of the game went on, I think he played better, but he’s got to assert himself if he wants to get in the mix. But he did some good things; they all did some good things.”
And they are still just one bad break away from getting another opportunity to play, just as several offensive linemen have found out this year.
After true freshman Giovanni Sani took over the left tackle spot when third-year starter Art Munoz broke his leg in the second game of the season, there was some more shuffling after junior right guard Will Mitchell sprained his knee on the fourth play of the game Saturday.
It caused Walsh to move right tackle Scott Winnewisser to guard and forced Matt Bertole and Lucas Trily into a timeshare at Winnewisser’s tackle spot.
Winnewisser also got banged up during the game and could not practice Sunday, Walsh said. Mitchell was hobbling around on crutches.
It’s the latest in a nasty string of injuries for the Cal Poly offense, which also went without running back Jon Hall for a stretch of three games, missed leading receiver Dominique Johnson for the better part of another two more and has seen fullback Jordan Yocum in and out all season.
Quarterback Tony Smith has been limited in practice the past couple weeks after he bruised his thigh and cut his throwing hand on a broken drinking glass.
“It’s hard to have any continuity when you’re never playing with the same guys,” Walsh said. “All those things are taking a toll on the timing of this offense and this is a timing offense, and that part of it is hurting. We have to find a way to get it fixed because you’ve got four games left in which you control your own destiny.”
As the team continues trying to prove it deserves an at-large berth to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, Boaz continues his second time through proving himself.
His body was more of a fit for Ellerson’s flex defense rather than Walsh’s 4-3, and he’s still in the midst of the 6- to 12-month recovery period for rehab from surgery to repair the torn labrum. After Boaz, by his own account, came out flat in training camp, he landed back on the scout-team defense.
Made up of mostly of redshirting freshman and other players unlikely to play, the scout team helps prepare the starters by mimicking the schemes of the opponents.
It’s where Boaz impressed Ellerson during his redshirt year last season. By earning scout team player of the week a couple times this season, Boaz was able to impress Walsh and defensive line coach Jamar Cain enough to get onto the real depth chart.
“To tell you the truth, the funnest times I’ve ever had in football wasn’t even on the field,” Boaz said. “It was last year and the first part of this year playing on the scout team.
“At the same time, I was really eager to get off that team because I knew I wasn’t going to play until I got on the depth chart.”