Experience won out.
After a four-way battled raged through spring drills and continued through the first two weeks of fall training camp, the Cal Poly football team has picked junior quarterback Vince Moraga to start the Aug. 31 season opener against San Diego.
Perhaps with the greatest grasp on the team’s triple-option offense, Moraga got the nod over sophomore Air Force transfer Dano Graves, sophomore Chris Brown and redshirt freshman Tanner Trosin — though the gap remains slim between all four, Mustangs head coach Tim Walsh said.
“He’s going to start,” Walsh said. “After that, I’m not big on pulling the rug out from somebody after naming the starter, but as close as the competition was, we need to make sure we’re being smart and giving everybody on the team a chance to go out and win.
“It’s his spot to keep. You have the keys to the car, drive it. But if you wreck it twice, I’m not going to keep giving you the keys. He has to play well.”
An Oxnard Pacifica High graduate, Moraga signed with Cal Poly as part of Walsh’s initial recruiting class after the coach joined the program in January 2009. Moraga spent one season as a grayshirt and another as a redshirt and has been with the program the longest of the top four competitors.
Senior Kenny Johnston also signed in the 2009 class and remains a key member of the scout team.
Moraga served as the primary backup to starter Andre Broadous last season, appearing in five games and rushing 10 times for 76 yards. Playing mainly in blowout situations, Moraga passed only twice, completing one for 16 yards.
Walsh praised Moraga’s comfort with the speed of the game, and said Moraga had been the most consistent performer throughout the entire competition.
“He’s really good in the run game,” Walsh said. “Part of it we think he’s really good at seeing the field and seeing what he’s supposed to see. … When the ball’s snapped, he has a plan already in mind.”
Walsh said all four quarterbacks, each largely untested at the college level, received high praise for the improvement they showed from spring drills to training camp.
Graves, a former high school state champ with Folsom High in who joined the Mustangs the week before the start of spring practice, is the second-string quarterback.
Brown, who missed much of the spring with an injury in his non-throwing wrist, is third, and Trosin, Graves’ former Folsom teammate and a state prep record-breaker in his own right, is fourth.
Walsh had hoped to identify a starter or at least narrow the competition coming out of spring drills but allowed all four to compete evenly through the first two weeks of training camp, culminated by a live, full-contact intrasquad scrimmage Saturday.
In the scrimmage, Trosin led the offense to three touchdowns, including a 13-yard scoring pass to freshman slotback Kevin Porche.
Moraga and Brown also engineered scoring drives. Moraga was 4-of-6 passing for 30 yards and ran six times for 8 yards. Brown gained 41 yards on five rushing attempts and completed 2 of 5 passes for 12 yards.
Graves started with the first-team offense but had trouble sustaining drives against an experienced first-team defense and finished 5-of-6 passing for 23 yards and gained 6 yards on 12 carries.
Walsh said he would have been comfortable naming any of the four as the starter. He then cited former third-string quarterback Doug Shumway’s 35-33 comeback victory over then-No.2-ranked Montana in 2010 as a warning.
“It’s a luxury to have the depth that we have,” Walsh said. “A couple years ago, thank God we had Doug Shumway. Every guy better be ready every week.”