The Cal Poly football team’s recruiting class of 2011 will play its final game together Saturday night, when North Dakota visits Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
Winning on Senior Night has proven particularly difficult for the Mustangs, who are 1-5 in regular season home finales under head coach Tim Walsh. Perhaps no game illustrates that point more than last year’s upset loss to a one-win UC Davis team, a result Cal Poly carried with it for the better part of a calendar year.
Walsh said the coaching staff makes an effort to keep players’ pregame emotions in check, knowing teams have taken advantage of the Mustangs feeling nostalgic as a group around kickoff.
“It should be emotional,” Walsh said. “The best way to say thank you to your family is play well and win.”
Of Cal Poly’s 18 graduating seniors, 15 redshirted as freshmen in 2011 and will finish their fifth year in the program Saturday night. The class features some all-time Mustangs greats, such as quarterback Chris Brown and wide receiver Willie Tucker.
Offensive linemen Weston Walker and Steven Sippel have helped paved the way to 26 victories and three straight seasons leading the FCS in rushing. Walker, an Atascadero High alumnus, has never missed a game in 46 career opportunities. Sippel missed one contest as a redshirt freshman in 2012 and has started 34 consecutive games at center.
“They’ve meant a ton to who we are on the offensive side,” Walsh said.
Cal Poly’s preseason starting secondary featured three seniors in cornerbacks Karlton Dennis, Chris Fletcher and safety Kaulin Blair. Fletcher suffered a season-ending injury against Arizona State, giving former walk-on Fernando Cabico a chance to start the final nine games of his career.
Starting linebackers Burton De Koning and Tu’uta Inoke lead the team in tackles, sacks and forced fumbles. Receivers Roland Jackson and Jordan Hines have been sure-handed targets and key run blockers for four straight seasons.
Transfers Logan Mayes (Washington State) and Tyler Alsey (American River College) made contributions to a steady defensive line group, and walk-ons Frankie Griggs and Zac Powell carved out important roles on special teams.
Reserve Dylan Gutierrez has spent time on the offensive and defensive lines, and kicker Stephen Pyle overcame a season-ending injury as junior to make three of four field goals and has handled punting duties in all 10 games this season.
“They’re tremendous character guys, and guys that you are going to remember as the years progress,” Walsh said.
At the top of that list is Brown, one of the most dynamic playmakers in the Big Sky Conference.
Having spent most of the fall etching his name further into the Cal Poly record books, Brown ranks seventh in school history with 2,936 passing yards and 36 touchdowns. He is fourth on the all-time rushing list at 2,971 yards and a school-record 36 scores.
With three touchdowns against UND, Brown will tie Jonathan Dally’s No. 1 career mark of 75 total touchdowns.