This is the sixth in an eight-part series previewing each position group within the Cal Poly football team.
Who’s back: Alex Vega delivered arguably the most significant play of Cal Poly’s entire 2015 season. In the first game of his collegiate career, the then-true freshman kicked a game-winning 49-yard field goal to defeat nationally-ranked Montana inside a sold out Washington-Grizzly Stadium. However, Vega would kick only one more field goal and five point-after attempts the rest of the season (he made all six). Graduated senior Stephen Pyle emerged as the Mustangs’ most consistent kicker and punter, though he also had some key miscues during Big Sky Conference play.
Junior running back Kyle Lewis has led Cal Poly in kickoff return yards each of the last two seasons, and he proved to be one of the Mustangs’ top big-play threats last fall. Sophomore Kory Fox also is back and provides steady hands as the team’s go-to punt returner.
Who’s new: Junior college transfer Casey Sublette came to Cal Poly from El Camino Community College and enrolled in time for spring practices. Those 15 sessions were enough to give Sublette the early nod over Vega on the preseason depth chart. As a freshman last year, Sublette averaged 39.3 yards per punt and earned second-team all-conference honors at the position.
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In the return game, redshirt freshman J.J. Koski and junior college transfer Dominic Frasch will both get an opportunity to use their speed in the open field while backing up Lewis and Fox. Junior Billy Shipman II is listed as the projected starter at both long snapper (punts) and short snapper (PATs and field goals) heading into the Sept. 2 season opener at Nevada.
Tim Walsh’s take: “I think that competition is wide open. But if we were playing tomorrow, Casey would probably start and Alex would be second.”
Projected depth chart
Kickoffs: Alex Vega, 5-9, 180, soph.; Casey Sublette, 5-11, 180, soph.
Punter: Casey Sublette, 5-11, 180, soph.; Alex Vega, 5-9, 180, soph.
Holder: Kory Fox, 6-0, 180, soph.; Carson McMurtrey, 6-4, 205, sr.
Long snapper: Billy Shipman II, 6-4, 270, jr.; Will Gallo, 6-1, 205, rfr.; Mason Montgomery, 6-1, 235, jr.
Short snapper: Billy Shipman II, 6-4, 270, jr.; Tyler Whisenhunt, 6-3, 275, rfr.
Punt returns: Kory Fox, 6-0, 180, soph.; J.J. Koski, 6-0, 180, soph.; Dominic Frasch, 5-10, 185, jr.
Kickoff returns: Kyle Lewis, 6-0, 210, jr.; Dominic Frasch, 5-10, 185, jr.; Kori Garcia, 5-10, 195, sr.
X Factor: Among the 13 teams in the Big Sky, only Montana State (33) punted fewer times than Cal Poly (36) in 2015. Because the Mustangs were able to convert on fourth down an eye-popping 72.5 percent of the time, they rarely opted to give up on drives. Assuming Cal Poly will continue to push the tempo under first-year offensive coordinator Juston Wood, consistency will be the biggest issue for the Mustangs’ special teams units. Quality punting in late-game situations lacked at times a year ago, and arguably cost the Mustangs a victory on the road against Eastern Washington. Whoever emerges from fall camp as the starting kicker will likely have impressed the coaching staff with his consistent body of work, rather than one or two booming kicks over the past month.