The Cal Poly football team had plenty to celebrate on signing day.
Head coach Tim Walsh happily pointed out the five recruits considered to be three-star quality by assorted services, a first in program history for the Mustangs.
Cal Poly also replaced a senior class of 22 players with 19 signees announced Wednesday, the largest haul for Walsh in his seven years to ever come on the first day of the National Letter of Intent signing period.
Yet, the day could not pass without acknowledging that it nearly turned out even better.
Cal Poly lost one of its prized recruits when all-state first-team linebacker Matt Locher of Los Alamitos High went back on his non-binding verbal commitment to the Mustangs to instead sign with FBS power Boise State.
“That just happens in the process. So, my thing is I’d rather talk about the guys that said yes and not talk about the guys that said no,” said Walsh, who went on to praise San Diego Parker High quarterback Khaleel Jenkins, who was the first Cal Poly recruit to go public with his verbal commitment back in October and remained committed the entire time.
“Those are the kind of guys you love to have in your program, especially at this position. Yes meant yes. Sometimes in this world, you deal with some young people and some families that somehow think yes doesn’t mean yes.”
All considered, the Mustangs addressed their areas of need, particularly in the defensive secondary and at linebacker, where two FBS transfers and two from junior college will bolster units that lost a pair of starters each.
Washington State transfer cornerback Kevin Griffin, at 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, could play cornerback, safety or nickel after appearing in three games for the Cougars as a true freshman this past season. Griffin told The Tribune on Tuesday that he expects to be one of the top defensive players, if not the best, in the Big Sky Conference in 2015.
“He has some high aspirations, and we have some high aspirations for him,” defensive backs coach Neil Fendall said during Cal Poly’s signing day ceremony at Mother’s Tavern in downtown San Luis Obispo.
“He’s got kind of the mentality we want, too. He’s a guy we think with his play can really elevate our secondary and say, ‘Hey, we’re here to be the best, and that’s what we’re going to be.’ That’s the kind of moxie we’re after.”
He’ll be joined in some capacity in a defensive backfield that lost both starting safeties by former Concord De La Salle High teammate Jerek Rosales, another 6-1 sophomore cornerback with four years to play three seasons.
“Length is something we definitely want in the secondary,” Walsh said. “To get Kevin Griffin and Jerek Rosales, who were high school teammates at De La Salle that still are four-year-to-play-three, those are good gets for us.”
The linebacker transfers are Boise State junior Chris Santini, the younger brother of former Cal Poly reserve linebacker Michael Santini, and Laney College sophomore Charlie Davis, an outside rush linebacker the Mustangs are looking to convert to an inside linebacker.
Chris Santini played largely on special teams for the Broncos and left for a greater opportunity to start. He was offered scholarships by no fewer than 11 Division I schools coming out of San Jose Leland High, including Oregon State and Utah. He’ll have an opportunity to earn a plenty of playing time as the Mustangs look to replace both All-America middle linebacker Nick Dzubnar and all-conference teammate Cameron Ontko in their 4-3 front.
Offensively, Cal Poly inked Iowa transfer offensive lineman Colin Goebel, the cousin of former Mustangs defensive end Grant Goebel. Colin Goebel will be a sophomore and at 6-5, 280 pounds, is a rare find for a program that usually features smaller, quicker linemen.
Imposing size was the theme for Cal Poly’s offensive line commits.
San Ramon California High’s Tyler Whisenhunt, another three-star recruit, measures 6-3 and 285 pounds. The Mustangs had to beat scholarship offers from FBS suitors Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico and UNLV and beat Big Sky rival Montana for Whisenhunt.
“He is massive,” offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Saga Tuitele said. “For us to get a 6-foot-3, 285-pound guy who can bend, who can strike, who is mean on the field is extremely impressive.”
Rialto Carter High center Paul Trujillo-Langdon comes in listed at 6-3, 290 pounds, giving the Mustangs another huge body.
Cal Poly only needs to replace two starters on an offense that led the FCS with 351.8 rushing yards per game last season, but the Mustangs still stocked up on skill players, which could come in handy after sophomore slotback Lance Mudd announced a transfer to USC on Tuesday.
At running back, Cal Poly brings in first-team all-state honoree Trey Nahhas of Elk Grove Monterey Trail High, College of San Mateo junior transfer D.J. Peluso, Los Angeles Loyola High’s David Cooper and National City Sweetwater High’s Raven Middleton, whose father tragically died while accompanying Middleton on his recent official recruiting visit.
“It was the last day I saw my dad alive,” Middleton said in a bio prepared by the Mustangs. “After we explored the beautiful campus for a day, he was excited for me to attend Cal Poly for the next four years. My dad enjoyed his time with the great coaching staff and the coaches said all my dad could talk about was how proud he was of his kids. I’m grateful to have had him there to visit the campus with me and I’m excited to be a Mustang for the next four years of my life.”
Absent was former Cal Poly quarterback Tanner Trosin, who helped lead American River College to the junior college Northern California title game last fall. Trosin is being recruited by defending NAIA national champion Southern Oregon and could still be an option for the Mustangs that would help provide flexibility to redshirt backup quarterback Dano Graves next season.
Trosin is still free to re-join Cal Poly, where he spent his first two collegiate seasons, but at this point, it could be unlikely the Mustangs would consider bringing him back until spring practice in April.
Going into the recruiting season, Walsh said an extra emphasis would be put on character after five players were arrested and charged in connection with an alleged attempted armed robbery during training camp. A judge recently ruled that at least four of the five can proceed to trial later this year.
“I can’t control the future,” Walsh said. “I just believe what we did now is what we’ve always done. We did put more emphasis on making sure we were right, but I think our players do a tremendous job and that we do have good character in the program, and I think we do have great character on the coaching staff.”