Coming out of high school, Karl Winkelman was offered immediate playing time at San Diego. Doug Shumway and Akaninyene Umoh were recruited by the Toreros, too.
They all landed at Cal Poly.
Mustangs football coaches were recruiting running backs Kenn James and Sam Hoekstra but decided not to offer them scholarships when West Virginia transfer Mark Rodgers became available.
San Diego has been happy to make James and Hoekstra key contributors.
From the names on the roster to the one on the stadium, these teams couldn’t be more familiar.
It’s a wonder how they’ve taken so long to meet on the field.
“They were really hyped on me coming in and playing right away,” said Winkelman, a former defensive lineman who will start tonight’s season opener at offensive tackle for Cal Poly, “but I felt like coming here, I’d become a better football player.
“There’s a bunch of guys who have talked a lot about it this week about being recruited from both there and here, but most of the time they choose here.”
The Mustangs, who have the luxury of offering full scholarships, usually win the recruiting war against the Toreros, who can provide academic- and need-based financial aid that isn’t tied to a student’s status with the football program.
That difference, at least superficially, is part of the reason the two programs haven’t met in recent years. When Cal Poly meets San Diego at 4 p.m. at Alex G. Spanos Stadium — named after the San Diego Chargers owner and renovation donor — it will be the first time they’ll have played since their first and only meeting in 1959, a 36-14 Mustangs victory.
“Very rarely do we get guys that turn down scholarships,” said Toreros head coach Ron Caragher, who spent nine seasons as an assistant coach at UCLA and four more at Kentucky before arriving in San Diego. “It would really have to be maybe a local San Diego guy that lives at home and playing in front of family and friends maybe outweighs a scholarship. That’s the one time I see that we can hang and compete against the scholarship schools.”
Cal Poly redshirt freshman receiver Jordan Hines, a former prep standout at Chula Vista Eastlake High, was no such player. Recruited by the Toreros, he wanted to get away from San Diego for college.
But Hines, a second-stringer on the Mustangs’ depth chart, is definitely looking forward to this game. His former high school quarterback at Eastlake, D’Angelo Barksdale, is a reserve receiver at San Diego.
“I was actually planning on calling him after practice today to see what his plans are,” Hines said after Thursday’s walkthrough.
With most scholarship-caliber players choosing Cal Poly over San Diego, today’s matchup might seem like a mismatch.
But the Toreros have forged a reputation as one of the better nonscholarship FCS teams in the country. Capped by last year’s 9-2 campaign, they’ve won Pioneer League championships in four of the past seven seasons, the first two under former Stanford and current San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh.
The nonscholarship Pioneer League has shown enough stability to be awarded an automatic FCS playoff berth when the bracket expands to 24 teams in 2013, something the Mustangs’ former conference, the Great West, was never able to do.
With 90 percent of the country’s FCS programs housed east of the Rocky Mountains, San Diego has always been an attractive opponent for Cal Poly, especially when the Mustangs were scheduling seven nonconference games a year in the Great West.
The Toreros have held off on stacking their schedule with scholarship-level teams because Caragher admittedly said it would be tough for his program to compete in an atmosphere like the Big Sky Conference, Cal Poly’s new football-only conference affiliation, even though the travel is light compared to their normal trips.
But that doesn’t mean San Diego can’t compete in a single game and upset the Mustangs.
“Their program has grown over the last 10 years under Jim Harbaugh and under Ron Caragher,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said, “and I think they both have done an outstanding job, but I think they both understood they were building a program, too.
“They feel they’ve built it to the point in their program where they can compete against schools like UC Davis, Cal Poly and Southern Utah. Going into this season, their goal is to beat an FCS scholarship team.”