When Nick Dzubnar visited the Cal Poly campus with his family back in high school, he was greeted and given a tour by none other than Mustangs football great Kyle Shotwell.
Now a fifth-year senior linebacker, Dzubnar is poised to break Shotwell’s single-season program record for tackles and surpass the former Buck Buchanan Award-winner in career tackles in Cal Poly’s final two games, which begin with the Big Sky Conference finale against UC Davis at home Saturday.
What Shotwell, who was then at the tail end of a one-year coaching stint under head coach Tim Walsh, sold Dzubnar on was a wall of fame in Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
“We toured the stadium and that’s when I saw the three Buck Buchanan Award frames,” Dzubnar said, “where I decided if I come to Cal Poly, I want to win the Buck Buchanan.”
Shotwell was the last of three straight Mustangs players to win the award for the most outstanding defensive player in the FCS. He took it in 2006 after defensive end Chris Gocong took it the previous year and linebacker Jordan Beck started the streak in 2004.
Dzubnar is a candidate for the award this season, but before the winner is announced, Dzubnar is almost certain to pass Shotwell, who spent most of two seasons as a preseason and practice squad player in the NFL.
Leading the nation with 14.2 total tackles per game, Dzubnar needs just 16 stops to tie Shotwell, who had 158 in 2005. It could come this week. The Mission Viejo High product has already had a career-high 19-tackle game this season and two more 18-tackle efforts as well.
Dzubnar needs only three more to tie Shotwell’s 392 career tackles for second on the all-time list, though he’s unlikely to catch the program-record 449 Beck had from 2001 to 2004.
Dzubnar has already joined Beck as the only Cal Poly players to have 100-plus tackles in four different seasons.
After meeting Shotwell all those years ago, Dzubnar went home and studied up.
“I looked him up after that and realized what he did here at this school, and why Marty Mohamed wore the number 17 after he left,” he said.
“It’s pretty awesome,” nearing the record, Dzubnar added. “You look at the numbers, and the guys that are up there, it’s some of the greats that have ever played here at Cal Poly, especially at the linebacker position.”
Saturday’s 30-28 loss to Idaho State was a blow.
It knocked Cal Poly (6-4, 5-2 Big Sky) back out of the polls after the Mustangs debuted at No. 21 in the media poll last week. It could hurt Dzubnar’s award candidacy, but dropping Cal Poly below four Big Sky teams tied with one conference loss atop the standings, the two-point loss more seriously damaged the Mustangs’ playoff hopes.
Four teams made the 24-team FCS playoffs from the Big Sky last season. Cal Poly needs every team above it to lose at least once in order for the Mustangs to tie for the conference crown. Even that might not be enough to get to the postseason.
Cal Poly would rather concentrate on the Battle for the Golden Horseshoe in its rivalry game with UC Davis.
“Regardless,” Dzubnar said, “We have to win out. So, I think that’s just the big issue right now, especially against Davis. … It doesn’t matter what either of our records are, it’s always a big game.”
Said Walsh: “The goals were to win the Big Sky, go to the national playoffs and keep the Golden Horseshoe in San Luis Obispo. In reality, all three of those are probably alive, although one is a huge stretch. But the big thing is beat UC Davis and be 6-2 in the Big Sky. That’s a pretty good résumé for this year, and it’s the best we could possibly be right now. If we don’t achieve that, then shame on us.”