Motivated by last year’s four-win season, the Cal Poly football team returned to practice Saturday afternoon with the type of energy expected following an eighth-month layoff.
A veteran senior class set the tone for the Mustangs’ first of 27 practice sessions leading up to the Sept. 2 season opener at Nevada. Three new additions to the coaching staff also provided an extra spark during individual drills on the upper fields at the Cal Poly Sports Complex.
“Obviously, there’s going to be a whole bunch of energy the first day back,” senior running back Kori Garcia said. “But the young guys definitely showed up today. They’re definitely getting a lot thrown on their plate, but they responded pretty well for the most part.”
Fifth-year senior quarterback Dano Graves sat out practice with back spasms, allowing true freshmen Michael Austin and Jake Jeffrey to get some more significant snaps early in camp.
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It also gave sophomore Khaleel Jenkins the opportunity to work with the first-team offense during 7-on-7 periods, and he showed improved command throughout the two-hour workout.
Head coach Tim Walsh said he expects Graves to return to practice in the next two or three days, adding that there was no sense in risking further injury during the first week of August.
“He’s moving way better now than he was this morning,” Walsh said. “At this point, we’re not going to push it until he’s ready.”
As is usually the case early in the season, Cal Poly’s defense seemed to be a step quicker than the offense during a couple of head-to-head periods.
Having fifth-year senior Josh Letuligasenoa back in the mix was a welcome sight for a defense that ranked among the worst in the Big Sky Conference last fall. He brings a physical presence to the Mustangs’ front seven that was lacking at times in 2015.
“We don’t have everything right — obviously, it’s the first day,” senior linebacker Chris Santini said. “But we were flying around, there was a good energy, and I think the younger guys were really trying to get after it.”
Cal Poly will practice again Sunday in helmets only and then add shoulder pads Monday and Tuesday. The first full-pad practice is set for 2:50 p.m. Wednesday, and two-a-day sessions are scheduled to begin next Saturday.
“I was really pleased with the condition we’re in,” Walsh said. “(Strength and conditioning coach Chris) Holder did a great job but, most importantly, the players have done a great job of getting ready.”