The night before the Cal Poly football team’s season opener against San Diego last month, cornerback Dominique Love received some good news.
It meant he had to take some bad as well.
The New Mexico State transfer, who once received a scholarship offer from Colorado, was granted a restart of his eligibility clock by the NCAA, meaning the semester’s worth of classes he took as an Aggies student wouldn’t count against him.
That means Love, the younger brother of Mustangs men’s basketball guard Maliik Love, would have five years to play four seasons in San Luis Obispo, despite initially attending New Mexico State last fall and transferring to Cal Poly this past spring.
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Love said in his second week of school in New Mexico, he had a personal experience that led to he and his family deciding he would be safer closer to home. He immediately returned to Chula Vista and completed his full course load online.
Through an appeals process with the NCAA, Love can now treat that semester as though it was a grayshirt, which is generally only afforded for students taking classes part-time.
Upon hearing the news, Mustangs head coach Tim Walsh decided to redshirt Love, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound physical cornerback, potentially grooming him to become a four-year starter.
What that also means is that Love will not see the field in a regulation game until the 2014 opener, fittingly scheduled to be against the Aggies in Las Cruces, N.M., but more than two years after ending his two-sport career at the Bishop’s School in La Jolla.
“I haven’t played since my senior year in high school,” Love said. “So, I definitely miss being on the field, but I want to be the best I can to help my team. So, if redshirting benefits the team, I’m all for it.
“I’m glad I can be able to build my character, build up physically and get better mentally and just know the game better than I did before, so everything just slows down for me out on the field.”
Love is not the only player who might have contributed this season but was chosen to redshirt. Senior linebacker Chris Judge, a former Air Force transfer, is another one. City College of San Francisco offensive lineman Sean McDonald is likely to redshirt as well.
Including local products Jack Ferguson of San Luis Obispo High and Ross Berry of Templeton, all but one of the 20 true freshmen on the roster are also slated to sit out this season.
Like Maliik, Dominique was also scouted by the Cal Poly basketball team. UC Santa Barbara pursued him for basketball, as did the football program at UC Davis.
Being a talent that attracted other FCS and FBS suitors in the recruiting process, Love, Walsh said, could have been among the Mustangs’ top five cornerbacks this season. But with seniors Vante Smith-Johnson and Bijon Samoodi expecting to play a lot, and sophomore Karlton Dennis joining that group of experienced players, there will be more opportunity for Love to join the starting lineup next season.
“He can grow into a special player,” Walsh said. “Our idea is to give him a year to mature, get in the weight room, learn our system a little bit better and have an opportunity next year to be a guy who can really compete to play a lot of downs.
“To have his length and his speed, and he’s way more aggressive than we thought he was, he has the potential to be, but he’s gotta earn it.”
Walsh said McDonald, a 6-foot-4, 290-pound two-time all-NorCal Conference tackle, suffered a broken hand early in the year but is close to returning. However, having missed the first three games and likely next Thursday’s Big Sky Conference opener at Portland State before being cleared to play, it might make more sense not to exhaust a year of McDonald’s eligibility with the aim of having him healthy for two more seasons.
Judge is the rare senior that’s redshirting, and in his case, it’s to facilitate a position change.
He came to Cal Poly his sophomore year as a linebacker but was moved to defensive end to provide a pass rush off the edge.
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound former Oaks Christian High standout spent the past two seasons in that role but is transitioning back to linebacker with the hope of replacing four-year starter Johnny Millard in the starting lineup next season.
The move puts Judge in a better position to become a pro prospect, and taking the year to get readjusted to picking his hand up off the ground and playing in space will only help.
For now, he’s one of the more enthusiastic members of the scout-team defense.
“It’s exciting getting some of the younger guys going and getting them excited,” Judge said, “so they can be pretty excited about their future, too.”
Ferguson, a former all-county two-way player for the Tigers, came to campus with impressive size at 6-2, 240 pounds, and Walsh said Ferguson, once clocked at 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash, runs even better than expected.
That said, Ferguson does have adjustments to make to the college level, chiefly among them is “definitely the speed,” Ferguson said. “Not necessarily the flat-out speed but quickness, reaction times, getting out of your cuts and breaking on balls.”
Like the other freshmen aside from receiver Cameron Akins, who has played in all three games, Ferguson will redshirt the season and fight for playing time next spring, where he’ll have a chance to compete with redshirt freshmen Joe Gigantino and Tu’uta Inoke to be one of the primary backups at linebacker.
“The spring’s going to be huge for him to get in the mix,” Walsh said. “He’s in a position where there are some guys that have game experience that he does have to get by, but he does have a future here, and we think it’s at linebacker.”