Cal Poly’s spring football season offers players an opportunity to show the coaching staff the progress they’ve made during the winter months and prove their readiness to take on a bigger role in the fall.
Perhaps no Mustang embraced that chance over the last 15 practices more than senior-to-be defensive end Leroy Mealancon Jr.
Having played sparingly behind a senior-heavy defensive line last fall, the 6-foot-5, 275-pound Mealancon showed during the annual spring game Saturday morning at Alex G. Spanos Stadium the impact he could have in 2017.
Head coach Tim Walsh believes the best is yet to come from the junior college transfer.
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“I think he gets it, that this is his last go around, and I think he’s taking advantage of it and sees that now he can make a difference for us on defense,” Walsh said. “His quickness and his size and his strength were pretty evident today.”
Mealancon, who recorded six tackles and recovered a fumble, helped spearhead a dominant showing from the green-clad defense to conclude spring camp. The defense won the structured scrimmage, 48-25, after recovering four fumbles and intercepting another pass, with each turnover counting as six points.
A 2013 graduate of Paraclete High School who played two seasons at College of the Canyons, Mealancon made two tackles in five games as a junior. Walsh said he could be an “impact player” in the fall, part of a defensive line that also features senior standouts Jack Ferguson and Augustino Elisaia.
“It was kind of a different transition, but I feel like I adapted very well and learned a lot,” Mealancon said of his first year at Cal Poly. “The team really brought me in as a family. I loved it.”
Here are three other story lines to follow heading into the offseason:
Cal Poly’s defense could be more diverse with secondary depth
Despite losing five senior starters defensively, the Mustangs have a chance to be considerably better on that side of the ball in 2017.
The secondary has drawn strong praise from Walsh throughout the spring, with four returning starters in Jerek Rosales, Kevin Griffin, B.J. Nard and Kitu Humphrey. Rosales and Griffin did not play Saturday, allowing reserves Kam Dennis, Aaryn Bouzos, Aaron Jonson, Carter Nichols and Dominic Frasch an opportunity for extended playing time.
It was Johnson, a 6-2, 190-pound junior, who intercepted quarterback Khaleel Jenkins and returned it 22 yards as one of the more exciting plays for the defense.
“The things that we’ve been preaching to the defense about playing fast and physical, that’s how we played,” Walsh said. “We tackled well in space. I thought we played hard. I thought our pad level up front was significantly better.”
With projected starting linebackers R.J. Mazolewski and Anders Turner unavailable, young players such as Jayson Lee, Matt Shotwell and Grant Alton shined at that position. Lee, the only true freshman to play in a game last season, made a team-high seven tackles to lead the defense.
As for Shotwell, a redshirt freshman and the youngest of four brothers to play football at Cal Poly, the spring has allowed him the chance to prove his mettle to defensive coordinator Josh Brown.
“I just wanted to be better at taking on blocks, being able to keep up with the speed of the game,” Shotwell said. “And then personal goals, just being No. 2 on the depth chart, which I hopefully accomplished, but we’ll see.”
Spring game likely wasn’t a sign of what’s to come offensively
Walsh said the offense was “extremely inconsistent” Saturday, which he partially attributed to injuries and the mix-and-match format that often had third-stringers playing with the first team.
The highlight of the day was Kyle Lewis’ 54-yard touchdown reception from Jenkins late in the scrimmage. All-American fullback Joe Protheroe rushed for a team-high 35 yards on nine carries, and freshman Chuby Dunu added 15 yards on seven attempts.
There’s been consistently high buzz around Dunu since he arrived on campus last summer. The speedy 6-foot, 190-pound true freshman will likely compete to replace graduated senior Kori Garcia, or serve as a backup to Lewis.
Dunu traveled with the team last year but was able to preserve his redshirt and figures to be a fixture of Cal Poly’s triple-option offense in the future.
“We almost played him last year and thank goodness we didn’t because now he’s got four years left,” Walsh said. “We expect him to be a huge contributor just because of his speed and he’ll learn how to become a better player as we good through it.”
Kicking competition remains tight with Sublette, Vega
On a day that scoring was hard to come by offensively, kickers Casey Sublette and Alex Vega each showed off their leg strength.
Sublette, who was 6-for-6 on field-goal attempts last season, including a long of 39 yards, converted on a 50-yard attempt early in the scrimmage.
Not to be outdone, Vega, who is 2-for-2 in his career with a long of 49 yards, buried a 52-yard field goal a few minutes after Sublette’s make.
That figures to be an ongoing competition for the two juniors heading into fall camp, which begins July 23.
Cal Poly’s season opener is scheduled for Aug. 27 at home against Colgate.