In his final season in San Luis Obispo, it’s clear Deonte Williams is having one of the most productive rushing campaigns in Cal Poly football history.
Also becoming unambiguous: Sophomore Kristaan Ivory is making a strong case to be next year’s featured running back.
“I hate to say he’s the back-in-waiting,” Mustangs head coach Tim Walsh said, “but he’s the back-in-waiting, and he’s showing why he should be the next guy in line to be the guy who has the opportunities that Deonte had this year. “
For now, “his role is that he’s going to be a 10- to 12-carry-a-game guy,” Walsh said, “and we expect him to be as efficient as Deonte is being.”
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Ivory had a career-high 94 yards on 10 carries in last week’s 34-17 loss at Eastern Washington, which included a 41-yard run, a 4-yard second-quarter touchdown that cut the Eagles’ lead to 14-10 early on and a 31-yard halfback pass under duress to receiver Willie Tucker.
Going into Saturday’s home game against Idaho State (1-8, 0-6 Big Sky Conference), Williams’ 1,194 rushing yards already assures him of a top-five single-season total on Cal Poly’s all-time list, and the Sacramento product has a chance to be the program record-holder with two more games in the regular season and a potential postseason appearance still to come.
Lining up against a Bengals defense that ranks last among 121 FCS teams in rushing defense (340.9 yards per game), total defense (567.1 yards per game) and scoring defense (53.6 points per game), Williams figures to have a big game.
So does Ivory, who ran for 80 yards on 12 carries at Sacramento State two weeks ago and totaled 89 yards on 10 carries at Weber State in early October. He’s second on the team with 473 rushing yards and averages a team-high 7.5 yards per carry.
His eight touchdowns — six rushing and two receiving — have him tied for third on the team in scoring with 48 points with senior quarterback Andre Broadous and behind Williams (60 points) and kicker Bobby Zalud (66).
Though this year has been a breakthrough in production for Ivory, the former Los Angeles Cathedral High two-sport standout made an immediate impact in coaches’ minds early in his true freshman season last year.
Though just 5-foot-9, Ivory came ready-built for college competition with his 195-pound frame.
“The third or fourth practice of his freshman year, we saw the kind of a competitor he was and what kind of football player he was,” Walsh said. “He loves football. He studies the game, and he understands the game and he picks things up really easy.
“And on top of being coachable, you can’t coach toughness. For a young guy, he came in here with no fear. He came in here and said, ‘I’m good enough, I’m physical enough to play here and be somebody that could contribute right away,’ and he has.
Said Ivory: “That was exactly what I wanted. I worked the summer coming into my freshman year. I was just working hard. I didn’t want to redshirt. I wanted to play right away and be part of the team. I’ve never sat out a season of football before, so I didn’t know how it would feel.”
In addition to a standout football career that saw him rush for 2,059 yards over three varsity seasons, Ivory was also a member of the Cathedral track and field team that tied for the 2009 CIF State Track and Field Championship.
The son of Cathedral track and field coach Roosevelt Ivory, Kristaan Ivory was a high school sprinter who became a 22-foot long-jumper and won the 2010 Del Rey League shot put title with a mark of 48 feet, 10 inches.
In his first season at Cal Poly, Ivory made his biggest impact on special teams, where he had eight tackles. He had just two carries for 12 yards and one catch for 8 yards. In an offense where Williams averages 19.6 carries per game, Walsh said he could see Ivory assume that kind of workload next season, albeit with a less bruising style.
“It sounds good,” Ivory said, “but right now, I’m just focused on this season. I feel like we have a big run to make this season. I think we can still win the national championship, so that’s all my focus.”