Though he won’t play today, Andre Broadous hasn’t been ruled out for the season yet, but another year-ending injury is opening the door at a different spot in the Cal Poly backfield.
Mustangs head football coach Tim Walsh said senior Tony Smith will get his second straight start at quarterback in place of Broadous — the sophomore who hurt his throwing shoulder two weeks ago — when they host St. Francis (Pa.) today.
Three others will try to earn the starting job of slotback David Mahr, whose knee injury last week will require season-ending surgery.
Broadous has shown improvement and could still return for a two-game stretch to close out Great West Conference play that could be pivotal to the Football Championship Subdivision playoff hopes of No. 22 Cal Poly (5-3), but that’s only if he’s close to fully healed.
“He’s much, much better,” Walsh said, “but he has to tell us close to 95 percent or we’re not going to play him. And with that injury, it just doesn’t make any sense to try to push the issue because it could set him all the way back and then you got two more weeks to get him back again.
“We’d much rather see if we can get him to feel like he can look us in the eye and say ‘I’m ready to play,’ and he can’t do that now, which is mature on his part.”
In the competent hands of Smith, who is 3-0 as a starter this season after quarterbacking the 22-21 win over North Dakota last week, the Mustangs might not need Broadous to beat St. Francis (1-6), a small Catholic university located in Loretto, Pa., that competes in the Northeast Conference of the FCS.
The loss of Mahr leaves a bigger question mark, because none of his backups are proven commodities.
Jarred Houston, the leading sprinter on the Cal Poly track and field team, has been a top reserve the past three seasons and was once the heir apparent to Ramses Barden and Tre’dale Tolver at receiver.
After being converted to running back in the offseason, Houston, a junior, has totaled minus-6 yards on just four carries this year. Mahr was fourth on the team in rushing (320 yards) and third in receiving yards (168) and earned high marks blocking for teammate Mark Rodgers.
“Jarred Houston has tremendous speed, and puts more speed on the field” than Mahr, Walsh said, “but he’s got to play consistently.“Dave was kind of the complete guy. He could run routes. He could catch. He could run the football. He could do everything, and Jarred has to prove that he can do those same things consistently.”
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Houston has been on the cusp of playing time ever since his redshirt season. He entered training camp as the starter at one slotback position in the Mustangs’ triple option, but a knee injury in the team’s preseason scrimmage and the arrival of West Virginia transfer Rodgers, moved him down the depth chart.
“It’s been a huge, huge waiting game,” Houston said. “I’ve been prepared mentally and physically all season, getting ready for my chance to get in the game and show that I can step up to what’s asked of me.
“At this point in the season, I’m just ready to contribute to the team.”
Redshirt freshman Gabe Umoh, a player Walsh always tabs with the word potential, is listed as the starter on this week’s depth chart.
The 6-2, 210-pounder from Morningside High in Inglewood is a bruising back that the Mustangs originally placed at fullback. But when his weight reached a plateau and the team’s needs shifted to the slot, he made the transition to a new position by mimicking Mahr.
“He was in front of me and just took me under his wing,” said Umoh, who ran for 706 yards and eight touchdowns as the deep back in an I-formation at Morningside his senior season. “I’ve just been trying to contribute as much as I can, from special teams to just blocking on the perimeter.”
Said Houston: “Umoh is a hammer. He’s the thunder, I’m the lightning, but people don’t know he’s as fast as he is. I’m excited to see him get the ball this weekend and definitely run some people over.”
The third option will be Blake Page, a redshirt junior who earned a spot on the team while walking on during spring drills in 2008.
Page has 13 career carries for 54 yards, and though he did not arrive on campus with the same kind of fanfare as the other two, Walsh said Page’s talents most resemble the package of skills that Mahr possesses.
All three are expected to play with the starting spot for the final two games seemingly at stake.
“We need one of those three guys to step up and be a guy that we can count on for the rest of the season,” Walsh said. “So they’re going to get opportunities to see what they can do.”