Fernando Cabico spent the week preparing for Cal Poly’s home opener Saturday night at Alex G. Spanos Stadium the same way he has the past four years.
But when the Mustangs (1-1) host ninth-ranked Northern Iowa at 7:30 p.m. in their final nonconference game, a few details will be noticeably different.
For the first time in his 30-game career, Cabico, a fifth-year senior cornerback, will be listed as the starter opposite Karlton Dennis. The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Cabico has been a key reserve in the secondary since joining the Mustangs in 2011.
A season-ending injury to all-Big Sky Conference performer Chris Fletcher pressed Cabico into a starting role this week and likely for the remainder of Cal Poly’s season.
Fletcher, the son of a former NFL player and the Mustangs’ top returning tackler from 2014, was in the midst of another standout performance when he broke his leg against Arizona State last week in Tempe, Ariz.
“He’s been one of my best friends since high school,” Cabico said. “It’s sad it had to be him his senior year. We were all sad about it. But at the same time, we’ve got to move on and from here on out we’re just going to keep playing for him.”
Fletcher and Cabico started in the same secondary for three years at Eastlake High in Chula Vista, a suburb south of San Diego. The two players helped Eastlake win 31 games in three seasons, including three league titles and a CIF-San Diego Section Division championship in 2009.
Cabico was selected as the Mesa League defensive player of the year as a junior in 2009 and again in 2010, the same season Fletcher was chosen as the league’s most valuable player on offense.
In their five years together at Cal Poly, Cabico, a walk-on, has actually played in more games than his longtime friend.
Much of that experience came from the “nickel” position, when the Mustangs would use a fifth defensive back in passing situations.
“I think he’ll step up because Fernando is a good player too,” head coach Tim Walsh said. “He may not look the part, but we have a lot of faith in what Fernando can do.”
Cabico showed some of his ability as a playmaker when he stepped in for Fletcher last week against the Sun Devils. He intercepted a pass in the end zone to stop an Arizona State drive at the 1-yard line late in the third quarter.
Cabico said he “knew they were going to attack me first play” and he was prepared.
“I’ve been practicing like a starter, I always have,” Cabico said. “Being behind Fletch and Karlton, you know, I always have that mindset of being a starter and playing as a starter.
“You never know what could happen.”