Part of the reason the Cal Poly football team comes into training camp with four quarterbacks still vying for the starting job is that none of them were able to take the job this past spring.
By the Mustangs’ account, that wasn’t a problem in Monday’s first practice.
Slotback Kristaan Ivory said the quarterback play looked much cleaner than it did in spring practice, when junior Vince Moraga, sophomore Chris Brown, redshirt freshman Tanner Trosin and Air Force transfer Dano Graves made their initial pitches to replace two-year starter Andre Broadous.
With offensive line coach Saga Tuitele moving into his first season as the offensive play-caller, head coach Tim Walsh spent much of his time on the offensive end of the upper fields at the Cal Poly Sports Complex.
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It allows Walsh to help ease the transition and gives him a front-row seat to an unpredictable quarterback competition being shepherded by Juston Wood, who moved from receivers coach to quarterbacks in the offseason with the departure of former offensive coordinator Bryan Cook to Georgia Tech.
“I want to be involved in what we decide at quarterback,” Walsh said. “I think it’s important for me to do that. And it’s not going to be my decision alone. It will be myself, coach Tuitele and Juston Wood that will make that decision. But, really, the guys that are going to make that decision are the players. The guy that plays better is probably going to be the guy.”
Staying true to his dedication to giving all four players an equal chance of winning the job, Walsh gave each one plenty of snaps in the non-padded practice. Senior Kenny Johnston, not considered to be among the contenders to start, made his share of throws as well.
Redshirt freshman safety B.J. Nard intercepted Johnston in 7-on-7 drills, and sophomore cornerback Fernando Cabico had another one, also by Johnston, slip through his grasp.
Senior receiver Nathaniel Petrey did his part to help the quarterback play, making three impressive lunging catches, including a couple with his feet perched near the right sideline.
Redshirt freshman slotback Kevin Porche was targeted often. He bobbled a throw over the middle, fell to the ground and caught it on the fly for one of the more impressive grabs of the afternoon. He also short-armed a sharply thrown deep ball from Brown after gaining a step on the defense.
Junior Austin Albison and freshman Reagan Enger also made their debuts, showing what the Cal Poly offense would look like with a tight end. Albison made multiple catches in an offensive attack that hasn’t featured the position since the program adopted the triple option in 2007.
Monday was also the first collegiate practice for former local standouts Jack Ferguson, a linebacker from San Luis Obispo High, and guard Ross Berry of Templeton.
Cameron Akins, a freshman from Los Angeles Cathedral, impressed coaches at receiver.
“It’s just day one, but he showed some flashes that I’m sure we’re going to like,” Walsh said. Former City College of San Francisco tackle “Sean McDonald, we need him to be a guy that can play. I also think Ross Berry, the big offensive lineman, might be able to do some things as well. It will be interesting to see how those guys develop.”
Junior receiver Willie Tucker was one of the few regulars who did not participate. Walsh said he received a cortisone injection in his injured foot and would be out for the next 7 to 10 days.
Decked in a baseball cap, Tucker did take the field to give advice to fellow players and stood in as a placeholder when necessary. When he returns, Walsh said Tucker will also take turns at slotback.
Senior cornerback Bijon Samoodi and sophomore punter Paul Hundley also did not practice. Each is awaiting academic clearance that could come as early as Friday, according to a Mustangs spokesperson.
Each will be contending for the starting role upon rejoining the team.
Though the defense lost only two starters from last season’s 9-3 playoff team, Walsh said some of the most competitive positions will be in the defensive backfield and along the defensive line, which is being guided by new coach Eti Ena.
“It was a great practice because having so many returning starters,” senior starting cornerback Vante Smith-Johnson said, “the people coming underneath us that are looking up and trying to compete for a spot; they’re actually playing to our level a lot faster because they see a lot of people playing at that level.”