Gathered together inside the President’s Suite at Alex G. Spanos Stadium on Wednesday afternoon, an excited Cal Poly football coaching staff revealed its list of 18 incoming recruits who made their college choices official.
Eighth-year head coach Tim Walsh and his assistants spoke to a group of boosters and athletic department members about the class of 2016, which all signed a binding National Letter of Intent to begin competing for the Mustangs next fall.
“It’s our obligation to keep the Big Sky the best conference in the United States so we can get three or four teams into the playoffs,” Walsh said. “We expect to be one of them next year, and this class is going to help us hopefully prolong it for the next four or five years.”
This year’s crop includes five defensive backs, four linebackers, three defensive linemen, three running backs, two offensive linemen, one wide receiver and one quarterback.
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Cal Poly, which finished 4-7 overall last season and tied for eighth in the 13-team Big Sky Conference, made a point to bring in versatile recruits who were two-way standouts during their prep careers.
With an eye toward improving their depth and talent defensively, the Mustangs signed five players expected to challenge for playing time right away in the secondary. That group includes Kelepi Lataimua (Serra), Daniel Fox (Westlake), Cameron Crump (Lincoln), Dominic Frasch (Bakersfield College) and 2015 Tribune County Player of the Year Bradley Mickey (Arroyo Grande).
Frasch is the grandson of former Mustangs standout Carl Bowser, one of 11 survivors from the tragic 1960 Cal Poly football team plane crash.
“Dominic is an extremely explosive athlete,” second-year secondary coach Jacob Yoro said. “... As a junior college transfer, our expectations on the defensive staff are for him to make an immediate impact not only in our secondary, but also on our special teams units.”
On the defensive front, Cal Poly signed standout pass-rushers Sean Davitt (St. Francis) and Ben Parker (Buchanan). Davitt, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound recruit, recorded an eye-popping 23 sacks among his 78 total tackles as a senior.
Four prep linebackers also put ink to paper Wednesday: Joey Ruiz (San Joaquin Memorial), Matthew Shotwell (Bishop Diego), Jayson Lee (Clovis North) and Lance Vecchio (Villa Park).
Longtime Cal Poly football fans will recognize the Shotwell name. Matthew is in line to become the fourth member of his family to play football for the Mustangs, following in the footsteps of his older brothers Kyle, Ryan and Troy.
Kyle, the oldest, won the Buck Buchanan Award as the FCS defensive player of the year in 2006.
“One of the things he said to me throughout the recruiting process,” defensive coordinator Josh Brown said, “was ‘I want to be recruited for Matt Shotwell.’ Not Ryan, not Kyle, not Troy.”
On the offensive side, linemen Saia Fonongaloa (Pittsburg) and Junior Gaitan (Foothill) each bring versatility to a position group needing to replace all-conference seniors Stephen Sippel and Weston Walker. At 6-3, 275 pounds, Fonongaloa started both ways and was listed as center/defensive tackle on Cal Poly’s official release.
Those two recruits will likely be paving the way for a trio of new running backs who signed with the Mustangs.
Already one of the team’s deepest position groups, Cal Poly added Tre Green (Folsom), Chibuikem Dunu (Buchanan) and Elijah Preston (St. Augustine) to the mix. The 5-5, 185-pound Preston is arguably the most decorated of the three, having rushed for nearly 7,200 yards and 83 touchdowns during his four-year varsity career.
“He’s a guy that when you get the ball into his hands, he’s going to find his way into the end zone,” running backs coach Aristotle Thompson said. “That’s something that, as you know, within our offense we’re going to get the ball into our running back’s hands.”
Rounding out the 2016 recruiting class are wide receiver Quentin Harrison (Bonita Vista) and quarterback Michael Austin (Helix). Harrison brings good size at 6-2, 190 pounds, and he averaged more than 26 yards per reception as a senior.
Austin passed for more than 4,000 yards and 46 touchdowns during his senior season, and was one of Cal Poly’s first recruits to express interest last March. Quarterbacks coach Juston Wood said former standout Chris Brown set a new standard for the position at Cal Poly after passing and rushing for more than 3,000 yards in his career.
“Michael is one of those guys who has the qualities to do those things,” Wood said.
The Mustangs did lose out on one player who was verbally committed coming into signing day. Great Oak High linebacker Ryan Boehm, a 6-3, 225-pound prospect, announced on his Twitter account Wednesday morning he chose to sign with UCLA over Cal Poly.
2016 Cal Poly football signees
QB Michael Austin - Helix HS
RB Tre Green - Folsom HS
RB Elijah Preston - St Augustine HS
RB Chibuikem Dunu - Buchanan HS
WR Quentin Harrison - Bonita Vista HS
C/DT Saia Fonongaloa - Pittsburg HS
OL Junior Gaitan - Foothill HS
CB Daniel Fox - Westlake HS
DB Kelepi Lataimua - Serra HS
DB Cameron Crump - Lincoln HS
DB Bradley Mickey - Arroyo Grande HS
DB Dominic Frasch - Bakersfield JC
LB Joey Ruiz - San Joaquin Memorial HS
LB Jayson Lee - Clovis North HS
LB Matthew Shotwell - Bishop Diego HS
LB Lance Vecchio - Villa Park HS
DE - Ben Parker - Buchanan HS
DE - Sean Davitt - St. Francis HS