Cal Poly

Cal Poly football team expected to lean on deep stable of running backs

Cal Poly senior Kori Garcia leads a deep stable of running backs that could be among the FCS leaders in rushing for a fourth consecutive season.
Cal Poly senior Kori Garcia leads a deep stable of running backs that could be among the FCS leaders in rushing for a fourth consecutive season. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

This is the fourth in an eight-part series previewing each position group within the Cal Poly football team.

Who’s back: The strength of Cal Poly’s offense, both in terms of experience and overall depth, remains at running back. In returning eight players that carried the ball at least 18 times last season, the Mustangs have arguably the deepest stable of running backs in the country. The statistical leader of the group is fifth-year senior Kori Garcia, who has rushed for more than 2,000 yards and 13 touchdowns in his career. Junior fullback Joe Protheroe played through a series of injuries to earn All-American honors in 2015, and he’s received some preseason national recognition this year.

Senior DJ Peluso (6-foot, 225 pounds) and junior Kyle Lewis (6-0, 210) are competing for the starting slot back position opposite Garcia, though both will be relied upon heavily if the Mustangs expect to lead the FCS in rushing for the fourth straight year.

Who’s new: There aren’t many new additions at running back with so many experienced returners. But Raven Middleton and David Cooper are each coming off redshirt years and will be competing with sophomores Malcolm Davis and Alex Suchesk for playing time throughout the season. Former Paso Robles High standout Elias Stokes missed nine games a year ago after breaking his arm in the home opener against Northern Iowa. The fifth-year senior brings good size and experience to the group, and if he stays healthy, Stokes could provide Cal Poly with some valuable reps behind the projected starters.

Tim Walsh’s take: “The core of who we are at running back is really good. If you look at the guy behind the quarterback, we can’t get better than we are there. Joe Protheroe is a great player.”

Projected depth chart:

H-back: Joe Protheroe, 6-0, 225, jr.; Jared Mohamed, 6-0, 220, jr.; Reagan Enger, 6-3, 238, jr.

S-back: DJ Peluso, 6-0, 225, sr.; Kyle Lewis, 6-0, 210, jr.; David Cooper, 5-9, 190, rfr.

W-back: Kori Garcia, 5-10, 195, sr.; Malcolm Davis, 5-8, 170, soph.; Alex Suchesk, 5-10, 190, soph.

X Factor: Cal Poly’s undoing in 2015 was its inability to maintain possession of the football. The Mustangs fumbled 26 times and lost 15 of them, the fourth-highest total in the country. For a team that has been historically strong in that category, it will be interesting to see if the issue lingers this fall. Cal Poly’s seven fumbles during the spring game in April weren’t exactly an encouraging sign. Fortunately, it’s one of the deepest position groups on the team and it wouldn’t be surprising to see six or seven players get consistent carries.

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