Cal Poly

Cal Poly football lands four new players, but loses potential top recruit — again

Turlock running back Dustin Grein (21) runs off tackle during a game between Turlock and Lincoln at Turlock High School in Turlock California on November 10, 2016. Grein signed with Cal Poly football Wednesday and is expected to play linebacker.
Turlock running back Dustin Grein (21) runs off tackle during a game between Turlock and Lincoln at Turlock High School in Turlock California on November 10, 2016. Grein signed with Cal Poly football Wednesday and is expected to play linebacker.

An athletic linebacker, a dominant left tackle, safety and cornerback transfer from Nevada all signed with Cal Poly football Wednesday, the first day of the NCAA’s three-day early signing period.

There was also a player expected to sign who had a surprising change of heart — top recruit Kyle Harmon, who had already committed and decommitted once before.

Harmon, a highly rated linebacker from the Bay Area, verbally committed to Cal Poly last year before pulling out at the last minute to sign with Cal. But Harmon left Cal over the summer, and according to a report from The Mercury News citing his high school football coach, Harmon was planning to enroll at Cal Poly in January and be a part of the early signing class.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, Harmon signed Wednesday with San Jose State, dealing a blow to a Cal Poly team in need of star power on defense.

Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said he couldn’t comment on Harmon, per NCAA rules, adding “and I really don’t want to.”

Harmon did not respond to a request for comment.

“I want to make sure that the four people that have signed, they deserve their due. This is their day,” Walsh said. “People that have or have not, that is their decision. We are really excited to have four special people that love Cal Poly and want to be a part of the Mustang football team.”

Here is a look at the four players who signed letters of intent:

Kevin Howell, DB, 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, Thousand Oaks (Thousand Oaks High School/Nevada)

Kevin Howell is a former three-star cornerback out of high school who was on the Cal Poly radar before he committed to Nevada following his senior year in 2016. After redshirting in 2016 and not seeing the field this fall for Nevada, Howell decided to transfer to Cal Poly.

“He has everything that every school in the country would like, except he’s 5-foot-9,” Walsh said. “You don’t have to be 6-1... we felt like he has the talent.”

As a senior, he was also recruited by Eastern Washington, Northern Arizona and Montana.

Central Coast fans might not have fond memories of Howell. As a wide receiver for Thousand Oaks in 2015, he torched Arroyo Grande for 205 yards and two touchdowns to lift the Lancers to a win in the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division playoff game.

Dustin Grein, LB, 6-2, 210, Turlock (Turlock High School)

Walsh called Grein a versatile athlete, and his numbers and track record back it up. He played basketball and baseball and was a shot putter and long jumper at Turlock High School. He played mostly safety on the football field and has elite-level speed — having been clocked at 4.48 in the 40-yard dash.

Walsh expects Grein to convert to either an inside or outside linebacker at Cal Poly and compete for playing time as a freshman.

“You watch his highlights, he can run he can catch on the offensive side, he can be a physical player,” Walsh said. “He is potentially going to be a dominant player in this league.”

He was also recruited by Sacramento State, UC Davis, Weber State, Northern Arizona and Wyoming.

“The tight-knit campus near the beach with amazing weather is close enough that my family can continue to support me by being present at my games,” Grein said in a news release. “Also, I feel strongly that I can contribute to the program early on and be successful on and off the field.”

Andrew Cokley, OL, 6-3, 275, Folsom (Vista del Lago High School)

Walsh called Cokley an “extremely athletic” left tackle who fits in well with the triple-option offensive system at Cal Poly.

“He’s also interesting in that he wants to major in horticulture. You don’t find a lot of football players that want to major in horticulture,” Walsh said with a chuckle. “For him to make the decision early, we really think it was a great get because I would guarantee you that every Big Sky school before it was all said and done was going to get in on it.”

Cokley had 52 pancakes and did not allow a sack his senior season and has made 39 consecutive starts at Vista del Lago High School. Cokley said he chose Cal Poly “to earn one of the best degrees in the country and join a prolific option offense. And you can’t really beat the area.”

Caden Ochoa, S, 5-11, 185, Bakersfield (Bakersfield High School)

Ochoa is the inaugural recipient of the Osbaldo Orozco Scholarship, given in honor of the former Cal Poly linebacker and Army veteran who died in 2003 while serving in Iraq.

Ochoa played quarterback and linebacker during his senior season, and is currently a point guard for the basketball team. He is expected to contribute as a safety at Cal Poly.

Walsh said Ochoa is “fluid” on defense and is “extremely intelligent, which is something we need in the back row.”

Cal Poly had the worst pass defense in the Big Sky last season and finished at 1-10, its worst record in more than 50 years.

Walsh’s Takeaway

The early 2018 class is again California-centric, a function Walsh said, of a limited budget that makes recruiting out of state difficult. Every one of Cal Poly’s initial 18-player recruiting class last season is from California, all but four players listed on the 10-5-man 2017 roster are from in-state.

“If we think a cornerback from Portland is that much better than a cornerback from Thousand Oaks, well you better be because it cost me time-and-a-half,” Walsh said. “There is a big cost, and if I don’t get you, I have spent a good amount of my budget trying to recruit an out-of-state guy that I wasn’t 100 percent sure I was going to get.”

The early signing period will continue Thursday and Friday, along with the Midyear Community College Transfer Period, which also opened Wednesday. Walsh said he would be surprised if Cal Poly didn’t sign “one or two” junior college players before the community college transfer period ends Jan. 15, 2018. Walsh said he expects a crop of around 14 to 15 players more players will sign in the normal period that opens Feb. 7 and ends April 1.

Travis Gibson: 805-781-7993, @TravisDgibson