Going into head coach Tim Walsh’s third recruiting season, the Cal Poly football team didn’t have many immediate holes to fill.
But with the graduations of receiver Dominique Johnson, middle linebacker Marty Mohamed and safety Scottie Cordier — all multi-year starters — those holes were glaring.
With the Mustangs’ signing day haul of 17 players, which included 14 high school seniors and three transfers, Walsh was satisfied that his staff had addressed all three positions and more while introducing the class Wednesday.
Able to speak about individual recruits for the first time now that they’ve signed national letters of intent, Walsh was also pleased with his program’s improving rate of success.
“We visited 23 guys, offered 20, and 17 said ‘yes,’ ” Walsh said. “Those are incredible numbers in college football. To be shooting in the 80 percentile on the guys who visit to the guys who say ‘yes,’ that doesn’t happen in a lot of places.”
Of the 14 high school seniors, 11, Walsh said, attended one of two successive Saturday football camps held on campus last offseason.
Of those, two are among a group of six first-year Mustangs Walsh expects to compete for immediate playing time and another is being labeled as the quarterback of the future.
Willie Tucker, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound Oak Ridge High receiver out of El Dorado Hills, led the CIF-Sac-Joaquin Section in receiving yards per game and broke school records for single-season receiving yards (1,257) and yards per catch (22.86) that were formerly held by current NFL players Austin Collie and Seyi Ajirotutu.
Tucker turned down a scholarship offer from Nevada to compete for a starting spot at Cal Poly in the fall.
“We think Willie is ready to play as a freshman,” Walsh said, “and we told him we need him to be ready to play as a freshman. He had Nevada-Reno and Nevada-Reno was flashing all those bowl rings that they have and all those things they have to him, and I think it was a tough decision.
“He runs in the low 4.6s, not a blazer, but I think he has got the ability to grow into what Dominique Johnson was for us the past couple of years. We expect him to come in and be a good player immediately.”
Walsh also said he planned to move junior outside linebacker Kenny Jackson to the middle to replace Mohamed, and that could open up a spot in the starting lineup for Air Force transfer Chris Judge, a former Oaks Christian standout that Walsh tried recruiting to Cal Poly two years ago.
“Sometimes you lose a guy to a place like the Air Force Academy or one of the academies and maybe they do come back because they find out that’s not for them,” said Walsh, who spent two seasons as Army’s offensive coordinator before replacing current Army head coach Rich Ellerson at Cal Poly. “And Chris found that out.”
Saddleback College safety Matt Reza, a 6-2, 205-pound junior, will look to replace Cordier after racking up 77 tackles, three interceptions, six pass breakups and a fumble recovery at the junior college level last season.
Chris Fletcher, a 5-9, 175-pound Chula Vista Eastlake standout, and Karlton Dennis, a 5-9, 180-pounder from Anaheim Servite, will be two true freshman that could earn playing time at cornerback.
Another junior college transfer, Deonte Williams of Sierra College, figures to get immediate carries at slotback. Williams, a junior, was the Big Sky Freshman of the year and runner-up for FCS Freshman of the year after rushing for 950 yards and 12 touchdowns at Northern Arizona in 2008.
At other positions, Cal Poly is returning 16 starters and redshirted 18 freshman last season. Because of the depth, spectators might not see many of the other recruits from this year for a couple of seasons, but that won’t make them any less important.
Compton Dominguez senior Chris Brown is the only player Walsh is bringing in expressly to play quarterback. Brown put up nearly 2,000 yards of total offense and scored 19 touchdowns while leading the Dons to a 10-2 record.
Brown will begin below junior Andre Broadous and his backup, junior Doug Shumway, on the depth chart but is expected to take over once they’re gone.
“Going into the year, there’s no question that Andre Broadous, it’s his opportunity,” Walsh said. “We think Doug has shown us that he has the ability to be a tremendous backup. We’re looking for someone to come in and develop for a couple years and then have three years as the starter. We think Chris Brown can do that.”