For third-year Cal Poly football head coach Tim Walsh, the players’ brand new practice jerseys worn at Monday’s start to training camp were all about confidence.
“One of the commitments I had to these guys when I got here was we were going to do everything we could to upgrade certain things, which included practice uniforms,” Walsh said.
Recycled practice jerseys had been faded and torn, with several players using mismatched numbers the past few years.
“It’s about the players,” Walsh said, “and I’m trying to do everything we can to make sure when they walk on the field, they feel comfortable with who they are and how they’re going to play.”
Feel confident. Play well. It’s a mantra that just might be the theme of the season, especially for quarterback Andre Broadous.
Decked out in the solid black Nike jersey worn by each of the four quarterbacks, the junior signal-caller looked sharp in a non-contact practice where padding was restricted to just helmets.
Broadous was able to hit several receivers deep up the sideline during drills and appeared expert at both the Mustangs’ triple option under center and their shotgun, no-huddle formations.
After competing with Tony Smith for playing time in each of the past two preseasons, Broadous began taking all of the first-team snaps during spring practice and doesn’t have to look over his shoulder anymore. Doug Shumway, a junior who engineered a thrilling comeback victory over Montana last season, took second-team repetitions Monday with true freshman Chris Brown and sophomore Kenny Johnston behind him.
“I’m getting more reps with the ones,” Broadous said, “instead of having to go from the ones some days and twos some days and just going back and forth with centers and back and forth with slots and different receivers. Now, I know the group that I’m with, and chemistry-wise, it just makes it better for me and my confidence.
“Being the starting quarterback rather than the battling thing was big for me,” he said.
Practice ran so smoothly, Walsh was able to declare Cal Poly more advanced offensively at this point than the team that went 7-4 last season — when a one-point defeat in the regular-season finale denied the Mustangs a trip to the playoffs.
It was more fluid, even, than what the coaches expected when they installed more shotgun formations and no-huddle plays in the offseason.
Many players have been in town since the beginning of July, participating in senior-led workouts.
“We’ve been throwing more than we have in the past,” senior fullback and former Templeton High standout Jake Romanelli said, “about three times a week, player-run and stuff. And like coach said, we’re a little further ahead of where we were last season.
“The young guys, they’re coming in earlier now, so they know what we’re doing. We’re trying to get the ball in our playmakers’ hands, and I think it’s working well.”
After splitting fullback carries with Jordan Yocum almost equally the past two seasons, Romanelli, like Broadous, also enters the year as the unquestioned starter. The two each had 102 rushing attempts last season. Yocum, now on the sidelines as a volunteer assistant coach, had 497 yards and four touchdowns. Romanelli totaled 459 yards and eight touchdowns.
A primary backup will have to emerge from a pool of Akaninyene (the running back formerly known as Gabe) Umoh, Quentin Greenlaw and Matt Rulon, but Romanelli figures to get a big majority of the playing time, Walsh said.
That competition as well as the other position battles will begin to really get sorted out when the players put on half pads Wednesday, full pads Friday and hold their first scrimmage on Saturday.
“The pace we practiced with today, it’s pretty evident that there’s a comfort zone between coaches and players and also a bigger comfort zone on offense as far as what the expectation is on the offensive side of the ball,” Walsh said, “and I think all that added up to a good, crisp, clean, non-padded, non-contact practice.”Unlike the offense, however, there was a lot of flux on defense.
Senior defensive end Gavin Cooper was not at practice after undergoing what Walsh termed a minor foot surgery. Cooper, who had 10 tackles for loss and a team-high six sacks last season, will be out the next two weeks and reevaluated after that.
After starting the year left off of the initial roster for unspecified reasons, defensive tackle Kevin Hess, who had three sacks last year, will rejoin the team Sunday, Walsh said.
True freshman defensive tackle Marcus Paige-Allen was limping on the sidelines and did not participate in practice. Neither did cornerback Nico Molino, who Walsh said could miss part of the regular season while recovering from a leg injury.
The linebacking corps was fully healthy, but all three starters are getting used to new roles after junior Kenny Jackson shifted to middle linebacker, creating a domino effect at the other two spots.
None of the change concerns senior All-America candidate Asa Jackson, who was named one of the top 10 professional prospects at the Football Championship Subdivision by one publication in the offseason.
“Everyone’s going to be just fine,” Jackson said. “It may take everyone a little bit to get 100 percent comfortable with their new positions, but I can’t really worry about that. I have to just worry about being the best player that I can be at corner. I always have confidence in my teammates, and it’s exciting to see everyone in their new positions, seeming to like it, so, yeah, it’s exciting.”