This is the third in an eight-part series previewing each position group within the Cal Poly football team.
Who’s back: Cal Poly’s rich tradition at linebacker continues to inspire current players. From Buck Buchanan Award winners Jordan Beck and Kyle Shotwell in the mid-2000s, to recent graduate and current San Diego Charger Nick Dzubnar, the Mustangs have a history of developing elite linebackers.
Returning starters Joseph Gigantino III and R.J. Mazolewski combined for 146 tackles last season, including 17 for lost yardage. Former Boise State transfer Chris Santini, an all-Big Sky Conference special teams player in 2015, is the projected starter at the strong side linebacker spot within the 3-4 defensive front. Rush linebackers Josh Letuligasenoa (6-foot-2, 263 pounds) and Charlie Davis (6-2, 228) are among the best all-around athletes on the Cal Poly roster, and they could provide a dynamic pass-rush that lacked at times a year ago.
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Who’s new: Redshirt freshmen Nik Navarro and Noah Thompson both stood out during Cal Poly’s spring game in April, and they will be counted on to spell their senior teammates. At 6-1, 240 pounds, Navarro is one of the bigger linebackers listed on the preseason depth chart and he will back up the veteran Gigantino. Junior college transfer Mason Montgomery was an all-conference performer at Butte Community College last fall, where he made 112 tackles for a team that finished the season 6-5.
Tim Walsh on Charlie Davis: “His athleticism is something that’s going to have to impact us at some point in time. He’s one of the best athletes on our team from a size and speed standpoint. He’s had a great offseason and we really would like to see him progress.”
Projected depth chart:
Rush LB: Josh Letuligasenoa, 6-2, 263, sr.; Charlie Davis, 6-2, 228, sr.
WLB: R.J. Mazolewski, 6-0, 225, jr.; Noah Thompson, 6-2, 210, rfr.; Anders Turner, 6-1, 210, soph.
MLB: Joseph Gigantino III, 6-2, 230, sr.; Nik Navarro, 6-1, 240, rfr.
SLB: Chris Santini, 6-1, 230, sr.; R.J. Mazolewski, 6-0, 225, jr.; Mason Montgomery, 6-1, 235, jr.
X Factor: With three senior starters at linebacker, the Mustangs have reason to feel optimistic about a defensive turnaround this fall. Walsh expects to have a 100-tackle performer each season, and while it’s tough to predict who that might be, any of the three seem capable of filling that role. The most intriguing player on the team has to be Letuligasenoa, who Walsh believes will be among the best defensive players in the conference this season.