The Cal Poly football team’s beleaguered cornerback corps got a reinforcement this week when NCAA college rosters were allowed to grow from 95 to 105 players.
With two cornerbacks lost for the season with injuries and another limited by an ankle sprain, the Mustangs were down to just three veterans and a true freshman for Saturday’s 41-14 season-opening victory over San Diego.
The situation got especially dire when junior Vante Smith-Johnson missed a chunk of the first half after taking a hard hit to the head.
Cal Poly brought an extra safety on to play in nickel coverage and persevered without playing freshman B.J. Nard, a former Bakersfield Frontier High standout that Mustangs head coach Tim Walsh was prepared to sub in.
At practice Tuesday, redshirt freshman cornerback Chris Fletcher was one of the 10 new players allowed to practice, and he provided some welcome depth at the position.
“We went into that game because of our depth in the secondary with our hands tied a little bit,” Walsh said. “Getting a guy like Chris Fletcher back makes us better. It also gives us an opportunity to rethink what we’re going to do with B.J. Nard.”
Unlike most redshirts, Fletcher traveled with the team last year as coaches debated whether to play him as an injury replacement. The former Chula Vista Eastlake High standout was actually sent on the field against Northern Illinois before a timeout gave Cal Poly a chance to reconsider.
Fletcher was considered a contender for a starting job in spring drills but was left off the 95-man roster for fall camp as he served a suspension for a violation of team rules, Walsh said.
Fletcher was glad to be back with the Mustangs at the Upper Sports Complex. He has plenty of catching up to do. Walsh said he will have to work his way back up the depth chart. As depleted as it is, Fletcher is hoping to see the field when Cal Poly travels to Wyoming for its next game Sept. 15.
“Missing that much time, obviously I’m behind as far as repetition,” Fletcher said. “Missing those reps, I’m going to be behind some of those other guys that have been through camp and been through games, but I was blessed to redshirt last year and actually travel a little bit, so I do know most of the coverages that we do run.”
Walsh was happy with senior Nico Molino’s play Saturday. Smith-Johnson returned for the second half, and redshirt freshman Karlton Dennis filled in seamlessly while he was out.
Williams is also returning to strength, so Fletcher knows seeing the field won’t be easy.
While away from the team, Fletcher said he still worked out on his own — running cone drills in his front yard and lifting weights in the recently constructed student recreation center.
More importantly, perhaps, Fletcher tried his best to stay mentally prepared to rejoin the team. He said catching up to speed physically while the Mustangs rest during their bye week was the easier of the two tasks.
“While I was away handling my business,” Fletcher said, “there was a lot of mental repetitions, watching film, breaking down certain coverages that we do, just getting mentally focused so that way when I’m back out there, I will be mentally ready.”