The Cal Poly football team has plenty of experience returning this year, and with signing day just one week away, the Mustangs have addressed the one position where they don’t.
Oak Ridge High receiver Willie Tucker, who turned down an offer from a top-15 Football Bowl Subdivision program, told The Tribune he gave the Cal Poly coaching staff a verbal commitment, and he could have the chance to step into the lineup as a true freshman.
Tucker — a 6-foot-3, 210-pound receiver who led the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section with 114.3 receiving yards per game — had offers from rival UC Davis, Football Championship Subdivision national champion Eastern Washington and Nevada, which finished 11th in the final Associated Press poll.
“SLO is such a sick place. It’s just all-around awesome,” Tucker said. “I wanted to be in a D-I FBS program, but with the offers I got I only had one of those, and I couldn’t pull myself to wanting to be in Reno instead of San Luis Obispo.
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“I would get signs and all that, seeing in the paper that San Luis Obispo was one of the three happiest places in the world. The opportunity to play early was kind of a thing that swayed me, too.”
The Mustangs have 16 players with starting experience returning next season, but after graduating four receivers, there is relatively no in-game experience catching passes on the current depth chart.
Tucker is one of at least eight recruits who have made their commitments to Cal Poly public in a class that Mustangs head coach Tim Walsh said could balloon to as many as 20 by next Wednesday.
NCAA rules prohibit Walsh from commenting publicly on specific recruits or transfers before they sign a national letter of intent or scholarship agreement, but Walsh said the program has received verbal commitments from 15 players.
Tucker is one example where Cal Poly prevailed over an FBS program, and Walsh said he’s happy with the Mustangs’ success competing against the higher-profile universities.
“We can’t do it with too many guys because if you don’t get them, you’re really going to be left holding an empty basket,” Walsh said. “We’re probably going to be in the 50th percentile when it’s all said and done. When you get three of those six, that can make a big difference.”
A knee injury that wiped out all of Tucker’s junior season could have helped Cal Poly. Had Tucker not sprained his MCL on the opening kickoff of the 2009 season, Oak Ridge coach Eric Cavaliere is certain Tucker would have received Pac-10 offers.
Tucker caught 55 passes for 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns this past season. Cavaliere said Tucker has the speed to run by defensive backs, but that his biggest weapon is his physicality, which should be an asset to offensive coordinator Bryan Cook’s triple-option offense.
“We ran the ball behind him quite a bit,” Cavaliere said. “We ran some screens behind him, too. I know Cal Poly loves to run the ball.
“I’ve coached wide receivers from Oak Ridge for quite some time, and I’ve told those guys if you’re a good blocker, you’re going to get open a lot more often because guys don’t want to be near you.
“Being a one-season varsity football player, I think we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg of what he’s going to be capable of.”
According to the Sacramento Bee, Cal Poly also got a verbal commitment from Sheldon High defensive lineman Marcus Paige-Allen. The 5-foot-11, 275-pound nephew of former Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Larry Allen, who played under Walsh at Sonoma State, played against Tucker this past season in a 32-30 Oak Ridge victory.
“He’s got a motor,” Cavaliere said of Paige-Allen. “He just keeps working, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a run up the middle, a run to the outside or a pass completed up the field. The kid is going to find a way to get to the football.”
The Mustangs have also received verbal commitments from the following players:
Chris Brown, 6-2, 175, QB, Dominguez of Compton (previously reported in The Tribune)
Tu’uta Inoke, 6-1, 205, QB, Sacramento Burbank (according to The Sacramento Bee)
Karlton Dennis, 5-8, 175, CB, Servite (according to OCVarsity.com)
Andrew Walsh, 6-0, 195, DB, Trabuco Hills (according to OCVarsity.com)
Kyle Zottneck, 6-2, 260, C, Los Alamitos (according to OCVarsity.com)
Matt Reza (JC transfer), 6-2, 200, DB, Saddleback College (according to Rivals.com)