Citing it as his toughest task as a football coach, Tim Walsh lured some big bodies to Cal Poly.
The sixth-year head coach also added some speed backs to the Mustangs’ option running attack, and perhaps most surprising at Wednesday’s signing day news conference at Charlie’s Place, Walsh also broke the news of two more FBS transfers to the program.
High school defensive tackles Samo Savusa and Fino Elisaia highlight a group of five of Cal Poly’s 14 National Letter of Intent signees weighing in at 265 pounds or more. Prep running backs Alex Suchesk and Lance Mudd own sub-11-second 100-meter dash marks as does cornerback and track star Mekai Sheffie.
Size and speed. Two things that are in short supply in San Luis Obispo.
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“For us to get two guys that are freshmen that are 280-290 or 300 pounds,” Walsh said about Savusa and Elisaia, “that’s a huge get for us. And then I think Mekai Sheffie, Alex Suchesk and Lance Mudd that all run sub-10.8 100 meters, those are pretty good guys, too. The guys that really make this a great class are our four-year transfers.”
In addition to the previously announced transfer of Washington State speed-rushing defensive end Logan Mayes, Cal Poly welcomed 5-foot-9, 175-pound Idaho cornerback Solomon Dixon and 6-2, 225-pound Nevada linebacker Burton De Koning.
All three will be juniors next season.
Having lost three of four starters in the defensive backfield, Walsh said he would be surprised if Dixon, a two-year starter who led the Vandals with three interceptions in 2012, does not start for the Mustangs in 2014.
A regular on Wolf Pack special teams, De Koning will also be pushing for a starting role, battling sophomore Tu’uta Inoke for the Will linebacker spot vacated by pro prospect and former four-year starter Johnny Millard.
Filling the void left by the loss of sack leader and All-America defensive tackle Sullivan Grosz and the departures of fellow defensive linemen Nick Leyden and Barrett Wangara was a priority in the recruiting season, Walsh said Savusa and Elisaia are big enough to push for playing time as freshmen.
The 6-1, 285-pound Savusa was named the most valuable lineman on a San Diego Madison High team that went 14-1 and captured the Division 3 state title. He spurned offers from Idaho and UC Davis to continue his career with Cal Poly.
Elisaia, a 6-0, 305-pounder from Union City Logan High, received recruiting attention from Stanford and Oregon among several other FBS schools, but without elite height, he considered offers from San Jose State, Sacramento State and Idaho State before committing to the Mustangs.
Together with the transfers, the big tackles should help bolster a defense that ranked in the top three in the Big Sky Conference in both total defense and scoring defense last season. The unit led by second-year defensive coordinator Josh Brown allowed more than 14 points just once in the final seven games.
“Defensively, we found what we needed to make us not only the number one defense maybe in our conference,” Walsh said, “but I think last year what made Josh Brown and our defense accomplished last year is something we want to emulate and continue as a tradition.”
Suchesk capped back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with 1,089 yards and 19 touchdowns on 9.6 yards per carry for Mission Viejo High last year. As a junior, he ran for 1,177 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Walsh said Suchesk’s decision came down to Cal Poly and FBS option-running Navy, but there might have been many more suitors for the 185-pound running back if he measured taller than 5-foot-9.
“If he was a little bit taller, I don’t think there’d be any doubt,” Walsh said.
“He’s a really good get. If he was 5-11, it would have been a harder get, but at 5-8 or 5-9, it made the target a little bit easier.”
Suchesk could provide depth behind returning senior Kristaan Ivory, who ran for 1,113 yards but battled a sprained ankle after a hot start last season.
Suchesk “could play as a freshman,” Walsh said, “but he’s got to earn it. Kristaan is still going to be that guy, but Alex could be the guy that can gain 800 and then go 1,000, 1,000, 1,000 after that.”
Suchesk hasn’t run track since 2012, but he did cap that season posting 10.72 seconds in the 100 meters at the CIF-Southern Section Championships and had a 10.73 mark in the Division 3 prelims.
Coming out of Poway High, Mudd also has a track background.
The first recruit to go public with his verbal commitment last fall, Mudd owns a 10.99 100-meter mark, a 4.44-second 40-yard dash time and goes into this month’s state indoor meet seeded fourth in the 55 meters with a qualifying time of 6.54.
Sheffie, a cornerback from Los Angeles Loyola High, anchored the runner-up for the 2013 state title in the 4x100 relay. He owns a personal best of 10.77 in the 100 meters.
Also included in the class is 6-6, 275-pound San Rosa Junior College offensive lineman Calvin Sandeen, who initially committed to Colorado State before tearing his ACL last season, and Huntington Beach High quarterback Kai Ross, the Orange County Register Offensive Player of the Year.
Ross passed for 2,291 yards and 31 touchdowns and ran for 810 yards and nine more scores last season.
Cal Poly will have four veteran quarterbacks battling for the starting job once again in training camp, leaving any newcomers likely buried on the depth chart, and Ross — also an all-state defensive back who returned two interceptions for touchdowns in Huntington Beach’s CIF-Southern Section Southwest Division title victory — was recruited as an athlete by Colorado State, San Diego State and Montana, but Cal Poly is committing to him as a quarterback first.
“He’s going to play quarterback,” Walsh said. “We’re the only school that recruited him as a quarterback. Everybody else recruited him as a corner, safety, wideout, and he can play all those things, but right now we’re 100 percent sure that after talking to him about football, he’s going to be a quality quarterback for us.”