Cal Poly’s spring football camp is a time for young players to prove to the coaching staff — and perhaps themselves —that they’re ready to step into a larger role in the fall.
For redshirt freshman wide receiver J.J. Koski, the Mustangs’ 15-practice spring schedule offered an opportunity to standout among a new-look position group needing to replace its top three performers from last season.
The explosive Koski — who tallied more than 160 receptions for 2,500 yards and 30 touchdowns during his prep career at San Ramon Valley High — will be one of several Cal Poly players hoping to stand out during the annual spring game at 1 p.m. Saturday inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
“Some young guys are going to get a good opportunity to play,” head coach Tim Walsh said. “… At this point, we’ve done what we needed to do offensively and defensively. Now it’s a game situation to find out maybe what some of the young players can do.”
A consistent deep-ball threat in practice, Koski is competing with projected starters Carson McMurtrey and Kory Fox, along with top reserves Alex Egurbide and Jake Smeltzer for meaningful repetitions at wide receiver.
He spent most of last fall on the scout team catching passes from Dano Graves, who strategically used his redshirt to step into the starting role in 2016. That familiarity seemed to pay dividends for both players throughout spring camp and could be on display when the offense runs about 40 plays against the defense Saturday afternoon.
“I’m definitely going to be that role player, whatever they want me to do I’m going to do,” said the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Koski. “I think I’ve got a big-play ability and can take it deep, and I can block as well. So, just going into the fall with an open mind, and whatever the coaches need me to do I’m gonna execute it as best I can.”
While no position group experienced more offseason attrition than wide receiver, there are several other storylines to keep an eye on offensively.
Cal Poly’s offensive line is as deep as it’s been in recent memory, with 14 to 15 available players who have game experience. Senior Matt Fisher returns as the mainstay at left tackle, with all-conference senior Nick Enriquez occupying the other edge.
In between, junior Joey Kuperman and senior Billy Shipman II have been competing to replace the graduated Stephen Sippel at center. Walsh said whichever player doesn’t start at center will likely remain in the lineup at right guard.
The only underclassmen listed as a starter on the spring depth chart is third-year sophomore Harry Whitson at left guard, and he played in nine contests last fall.
“This is like the first time we have a lot of kids who’ve all played in games,” said Fisher, who pointed to reserves Sam Ogee and Zach Shallcross as players who’ve stood out this spring.
Fans will likely get to see a largely healthy offense on Saturday, but the same can’t be said for the defense.
Walsh said he expects there to be “at least six guys” that won’t play in the spring game who will be counted on heavily in the fall.
Among them are defensive lineman Kelly Shepard and Jason Patterson, defensive back Darren Adjei, linebacker Noah Letuligasenoa and running back Trey Nahhas. Veteran linebacker Joseph Gigantino and defensive tackle Marcus Paige-Allen will be limited as well.
“Guys that have started in the past, they don’t need to play 70 plays,” Walsh said. “We’d like them to play 15 to 20 plays and get them done.”
The defense has held the upper hand in recent spring scrimmages. That group hasn’t allowed a touchdown two years in a row, though the offense played without quarterbacks Chris Brown and Dano Graves and running back Kori Garcia last spring.
“We’ll see this weekend, but I am extremely pleased with how fast we’re playing on defense,” Walsh said. “I think we’re playing fast and we’re playing physical.”
Cal Poly Spring Football
Format: Offense vs. Defense
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Alex G. Spanos Stadium
Cost: Admission is free