On the eve of the Cal Poly football team’s only training-camp scrimmage, head coach Tim Walsh said one of his freshman slotbacks could run for a 50-yard touchdown.
Who knew that would be an underestimate?
True freshman runner Alex Suchesk introduced himself to Mustangs fans by running for a 65-yard touchdown at Alex G. Spanos Stadium on Saturday, helping the offense to five touchdowns after the entire unit was held out of the end zone in the spring game a few months ago.
Although he lost a fumble later in the scrimmage, Suchesk still ran seven times for a team-high 90 yards in a 97-play scrimmage that was structured for specific situations instead of a game simulation.
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“I made a couple errors here and there,” Suchesk said. “I fumbled one time, which is not acceptable in my book, but I’ll fix that and definitely need to do some more conditioning.
“Having good plays shows I can play at this level, but then again there’s a lot of fine tuning needed to make myself a good player.”
It was a debut of sorts for Suchesk, a former All-Orange County honoree and high school sprint champion, and fellow freshman Lance Mudd, who are being given the opportunity to contribute rather than redshirt.
Their chances of immediate playing time rose after five Cal Poly players were arrested in connection with an alleged armed robbery at a fraternity house a week ago, including senior and honors candidate Kristaan Ivory and fellow slotback Jake Brito, a redshirt freshman.
With the arrested players facing an indefinite suspension and awaiting formal charges, a microscope is on the rest of the backs, particularly the speedy freshmen Suchesk and Mudd, who had two catches in the scrimmage.
“They both missed some blocking assignments, which is disappointing,” Walsh said. “They both had some procedure penalties, which is disappointing, but overall for freshmen playing in this type of deal, I think they did a pretty good job.”
Paso Robles High product and former Tribune County Player of the Year Elias Stokes was another offensive standout, rushing three times for 37 yards and catching three passes for 23 yards. Grayshirt freshman fullback Joe Protheroe ran seven times for 24 yards.
Quarterbacks Chris Brown and Dano Graves combined to go 18-of-20 passing for 116 yards.
The other four touchdowns were all short runs during a period in which the offense started on first-and-goal from the 7-yard line. Senior fullback Brent Michaels had scoring runs of 1 and 2 yards, Protheroe had a 2-yard touchdown run, and junior receiver Roland Jackson scored on a 3-yard inside reverse.
Most of the scrimmage featured third-down plays from various distances. The coaching staff also sent the team through a pair of two-minute drives, two series of first-and-goal from the 7 and a pair of red-zone series from the 20.
The receiving corps was held mostly in check. Junior Jordan Hines and sophomore Carson McMurtrey, two potential starters at receiver, were rested for the scrimmage. Sophomore Cam Akins was among those suspended after he was arrested at the scene of the alleged robbery.
In an unsettled competition with Graves to start the Aug. 28 opener at New Mexico State, Brown was 10-of-12 passing for 80 yards, but he also threw a wobbly pass under pressure that was intercepted near the sideline by sophomore cornerback Fernando Cabico.
While the offense started the scrimmage strong, the defense stiffened by the end, dominating the longer down-and-distance plays.
Defensive end Colin Dzubnar and defensive tackle Marcus Paige-Allen, both sophomores, were credited with two sacks apiece. Dzubnar and senior safety Trevor Weis sacked Graves on back-to-back plays in the second half of the scrimmage.
Senior linebacker Nick Dzubnar also registered a sack.
“The Dzubnar brothers did some good things,” Walsh said. “Nick played fast sideline to sideline. Colin made some plays, too.
“Early on, we got hit pretty good with some pretty good lanes, and we’ve got to look at why, but overall, I was really pleased.”
The highlight play on defense had to be the interception by Cabico, who’s become an inspirational success story for the Mustangs.
Cabico was an unrecruited prep teammate of starting cornerback Chris Fletcher at Chula Vista Eastlake High and came to Cal Poly as a completely unheralded walk-on.
Each year, Cabico has impressed coaches with his play and moved up the depth chart. It appears he’ll open the season as the team’s nickel back. That’s where he was playing when he made the interception.
“Right now, there’s no question he’s at least our third corner,” Walsh said. “I have so much confidence in what his abilities are, how he handles it, and how he plays — all the things you want a guy to play with. He plays so intelligently, and he’s way more athletic than people give him credit for. I’ve singled him out two or three times in this camp to our team.”
Cabico, Weis and others could be key contributors, especially considering two of the suspended players are sophomore defensive backs Cortland Fort and Dominique Love, who were each competing to start.
The depth has been thinned, but Cabico is showing reason why the remaining players shouldn’t be underestimated.
“As a defensive backfield, we’re bonding more closely,” Cabico said. “We’re becoming more of a family each day, and we look after each other. We were all saddened by the situation, but it’s a learning experience, and we’ve just got to move on.”