Last year, recruiting at Cal Poly was about scoring a quick quantity. This time, hunting for quality was paramount.
Head football coach Tim Walsh announced the commitments of 13 new recruits in a news conference in Mott Gym on Wednesday — touting a class that includes a running back transfer from a BCS school who could make an immediate impact and one of the best kicking prospects in the country.
The difference between this class and the last, which Walsh had less than a month to put together after he was hired to replace Rich Ellerson last January, was the full year his staff had to take its time and evaluate recruits.
“Just from a detail standpoint, it’s a better deal,” Walsh said, “and I think that we know our way around and what we need to have in our program better than we knew a year ago.”
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In the wake of the departure of nearly the entire offense a year ago, Cal Poly announced the signing of 14 high school players on the first day of the signing period and welcomed 24 freshmen for the start of fall camp.
This time around, the Mustangs were losing just 10 seniors, and Walsh could take the time to be selective about the 12 high schoolers the team signed on signing day.
The most anticipated of the dozen commits, however, are probably the ones who could afford to be choosy themselves.
Headlining the class is West Virginia transfer Mark Rodgers, a 5-foot-8, 185-pound junior running back who spent the past two seasons backing up Noel Devine and serving as the Mountaineers’ top kick returner.
The Los Angeles County native first told The Tribune last week that he would be returning to California to play for Walsh, the coach he initially signed with out of high school when he was at Portland State.
Prior to Wednesday, when it was announced that Rodgers had signed a financial aid package with Cal Poly, Walsh was unable to comment on the Big East Conference transfer.
With the team losing its top three running backs to graduation, Walsh said he expects Rodgers to be an instant contributor but did not want to add any extra pressure to the situation.
“I want Mark to come here, be comfortable and prove what he can do,” Walsh said. “Are the expectations high? Yeah, they’re high. And, hopefully, he is going to be what he hopes to be, let alone what we want him to be.”
Potential Baylor transfer Matt Singletary, the son of San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Singletary, wasn’t introduced, but the 6-3, 250-pound defensive end told The Tribune this week that he would be joining the team in the fall.
Coaches are prohibited from commenting on transfers until they sign scholarship agreements or enroll in classes.
Another recruit highlighted by Walsh was Pleasanton Foothill kicker James Langford.
Langford turned down an opportunity to be a preferred walk-on at Stanford to accept a scholarship from the Mustangs.
He is the eighth-ranked senior in the nation by ProKicker.com and tied for third in PAT/field goal kicking at a prestigious kicking camp in Las Vegas last month held by renowned kicking coach Chris Sailer, who rated Langford in his top 30 of the class.
Langford — who was also recruited by Oregon State, San Diego State, Washington State, Cal, San Jose State and Utah State — made a 57-yard field goal in a prep all-star game and made eight of 12 on field goals this season with half of his makes beyond 40 yards.
He was perfect on 44 extra points, and 86 percent of Langford’s kickoffs went for touchbacks.
“He’s a weapon,” Walsh said. “When he hits the football, you’ll hear it in the stands. You’ll know he hit it good. Don’t even watch, just listen, ’cause he booms it.”
Two more players who could have had options were Oakland High safety Dave Douglas and St. Joseph High running back K.J. Cusack.
Douglas gave the Mustangs a verbal commitment in December, but media reports following that commitment had Douglas open to listening if higher profile colleges came to him with offers.
Douglas received offers from Fresno State, San Diego State and Army but chose to stick with Cal Poly, and Walsh said he has the potential to be a four-year starter in the defensive backfield.
Cusack, a 5-9, 165-pound running back who rushed for 1,845 yards and scored 33 touchdowns for the Knights, was the first recruit to be offered a scholarship by the Mustangs, evidence of how highly they coveted the Arroyo Grande native.
Cusack had offers from Air Force, Army, Portland State and UC Davis, and his proportions may have been the only things keeping him from getting consideration from bigger programs.
But his size might not be a detriment in Cal Poly’s triple- option offense, which has had successful undersized backs, especially considering his 4.44-second speed in the 40-yard dash.
“He runs away from everybody he played against,” Walsh said. “His lateral movements and the things he can do with a football I think are extraordinary.”
“Is his size an issue? Maybe, maybe not. They haven’t been the biggest guys here in the past, and we think eventually, he’ll be 180, 190 pounds. How fast that happens, that’s up to him.”