With a season still to play, Nick Dzubnar is hoping what’s left of the Cal Poly football program isn’t forgotten.
The first player to speak publicly since five teammates were arrested Sunday in connection with a suspected armed robbery and suspended indefinitely by the university, the fifth-year senior linebacker and FCS All-America candidate made a plea for support after practice Wednesday.
“The biggest thing is we just hope the community, Cal Poly alumni, Cal Poly faculty back us up,” Dzubnar said. “It sucks that we’re in this situation, but if we could all as a community, as a city, San Luis Obispo come together, come to the games and still support us, that would be huge.”
Dzubnar said he was as shocked as any to hear the bad news, and he believes the team has done a good job not allowing the arrests to become a distraction from preparations for Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage and the eventual season opener at New Mexico State on Aug. 28.
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“It’s so important that we come closer together as a bigger family, and that’s what we’re doing,” Dzubnar said. Dzubnar himself, senior defensive tackle Chris Lawrence and senior fullback Brandon Howe, “and a lot of guys have come together and tried to be super vocal, keep the energy up, keep the tempo up, keep the attitude up. Just remember we’re still out here doing everything that we love.”
All five of the players arrested — senior slotback Kristaan Ivory, sophomore receiver Cam Akins, sophomore cornerback Cortland Fort, redshirt freshman cornerback Dominique Love and redshirt freshman slotback Jake Brito — all figured to play significant roles this season.
Ivory was the team MVP after rushing for 1,113 yards and six touchdowns last season. Akins moved into the starting role as a true freshman receiver in 2013. The others were competing for a starting spot in fall camp.
Akins was arrested at the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity house on California Boulevard near campus early Sunday after allegedly holding multiple fraternity members at gunpoint and tussling with officers before being taken into custody. Fort was arrested in a vehicle nearby, and the remaining three were arrested later that morning.
The team had just completed its first double-day practice on Saturday as training camp began earnestly ramping up toward the start of the season.
“At first,” Dzubnar said, “when you hear about it, you think, ‘Wait a second, I’ve played with these guys for years. This can’t be real. What are you talking about?’ It was a huge shock. It was devastating, but what happened, happened.”
Cal Poly athletic director Don Oberhelman said Tuesday the athletic department would wait at least until a resolution came with regard to formal charges before a decision would be made regarding the suspended players’ status with the team.
The loss of Ivory should be a heavy blow to an offense that lacks other proven options at slotback, but Ivory had yet to fully participate at training camp because of a hamstring injury, giving his backups plenty of repetitions. Brito missed spring drills with an injury though he had been healthy enough to participate in camp.
Even with Akins the receiving corps was largely unproven, and Akins had also missed practice time recently because of injury.
Dzubnar is making no excuses for the rest of the team.
“The offense shouldn’t have any excuse for losing guys,” he said. “They’ve been playing with the guys they’re playing with right now. Obviously, we lost talent, we miss them, we could have used them. The only thing you can do is try to stay positive about everything.
“After stuff like this, all you can really do as a team is get closer. That’s really what we’re doing right now. If we keep doing this, we’re still going to be ready for New Mexico State.”