With a more duty-bound role on the Cal Poly football team this season, Kennith Jackson thought it was time for a more mature moniker as well.
The junior linebacker had his name changed from “Kenny” on the official roster to coincide with his move from strongside to middle — or “mike” — linebacker.
“Mike, that’s known in football history as the center of the defense, a guy that’s supposed to control the defense, be stern, know what he’s doing, make the right plays,” Jackson said. “When the plays is said or when the offense comes out, you’re the one making the calls, lining the defense up.
“It makes you more responsible. That responsibility, as much as some people say it might weigh on you, I feel like it’s a good responsibility.”
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Jackson’s stern, responsible first name will be one of a few new changes when the Mustangs hold a full-contact scrimmage at the Upper Sports Complex this morning around 10:15 and a more extensive one next Saturday at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
There’s another name change, some new numbers and, with only three more weeks to prepare for the Sept. 3 season opener at San Diego State, Cal Poly will be showcasing a new shotgun spread-option offense to go with its traditional triple option.
Jackson, a two-year starter who was second on the team with 67 tackles last season and tied for the team high with 10 tackles for loss, also changed his jersey number from 42 to 9.
It was part of a wholesale number change for the entire crew of first-team linebackers.
Sophomore Johnny Millard, who originally signed with Cal Poly as a safety, changed from 43 to 11, and senior Max Schulz switched from 81 — a remnant from his backup wide receiver days in 2008 — to 40.
Like his teammates, Jackson got his original number at a different position. He redshirted as a backup fullback in 2008 and was converted to linebacker when Tim Walsh took over as head coach the following spring.
Even though Jackson wore 42 at Archbishop Mitty High, he was ready for a change there, too.
It all comes with his new role as one of the older team leaders, and now that he’s supposed to be leading by example, Jackson hopes to become more consistent and focus on fine-tuning his play.
“The maturity level is definitely something that comes with time,” Jackson said. “When you’re out on the field as a freshman, your head might be a little scattered. You’re trying to do everything right, and you’re always trying not to make a mistake. Now it’s not so much trying to make a mistake, it’s trying to work on my game.”
Akaninyene Umoh is focusing on several parts of his game.
The sophomore fullback is also practicing at slotback after converting from that position in his redshirt freshman season, when he even received a few starts as an injury fill-in.
Formerly known to Cal Poly followers by his father’s name, Gabriel, Umoh would now like to be known by his given name — which is pronounced Ah-kuh-NEE-uh-nay and means “worth more than wealth” in his father’s native Nigeria.
Umoh figures on getting enough chances to make it noticeable over the public address system at Spanos Stadium.
Taking over for David Mahr after Mahr tore his ACL, Umoh rushed six times for 20 yards in 2009 but made his biggest impact catching passes, grabbing seven receptions for 92 yards, good enough to rank fourth on the team.
“Coach says I’m a versatile player,” Umoh said. “So, he just wants to spread the ball around a little bit and get it in the hands of our playmakers. I just want to be able to use all my skills that God gave me.”
Some of the Mustangs’ new offensive plays were designed to dictate where their best players will get the ball on the field, rather than relying on the defensive formation to pick its poison in the triple option.
With practice open to the public, the scrimmages will be one of a few times people will be able to see Cal Poly’s starters run the new offense against the defense for an extended period before the season opener.
“You’re going to see us do some no-huddle stuff. You’re going to see us do some spread stuff,” Walsh said, “but you’re also still going to see a lot of triple option. That’s still who we are. We’re still a triple-option team.”
How much of each formation gets shown depends on which packages coaches think the team needs the most work on. By the second scrimmage, Walsh expects the team to be good enough at everything to make opponents have to prepare for an awful lot.
“Next Saturday,” he said, “hopefully you’re going to see the whole gamut of things.”