This is the seventh in an eight-part series previewing each position group within the Cal Poly football team.
Who’s back: Dano Graves has been patiently waiting for the better part of the last two years for his opportunity to be Cal Poly’s starting quarterback. No longer in Chris Brown’s shadow, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Graves enters his senior season with 17 games of experience and a firm understanding of the Mustangs’ triple-option offense. The former MaxPreps National Player of the Year out of Folsom High School did deal with back spasms early in fall camp, which allowed sophomore Khaleel Jenkins to get more practice reps with the first-team offense. Should Graves’ back problems persist, or another injury arise, Jenkins has a similar build (6-2, 205) and on-field demeanor to that of the graduated Brown.
Who’s new: True freshmen Michael Austin (Helix High) and Jake Jeffrey (Folsom High) will both likely redshirt this season, barring any serious injuries to Graves and Jenkins. Austin, the quicker runner of the two newcomers, passed for more than 4,000 yards and 46 touchdowns during his 27-game prep career. Jeffrey, perhaps a more polished passer, had a monster senior year at Folsom, throwing for more than 4,100 yards and 50 touchdowns. It will be interesting to see if either freshman travels as the No. 3 quarterback, or if all-purpose player Kory Fox would be used in an emergency situation on the road.
Tim Walsh’s take: “Obviously, when you lose a name like Chris Brown, everybody goes, ‘Wow.’ And rightfully so, he was a great player. But the bottom line thing is that Dano Graves has started a lot of games at quarterback and so have eight other players on offense.”
Projected depth chart
QB: Dano Graves, 5-10, 190, sr.; Khaleel Jenkins, 6-2, 205, soph.; Kory Fox, 6-0, 180, soph.; Michael Austin, 6-0, 180, fr.
X Factor: It might seem like low-hanging fruit, but health is the most important factor in Cal Poly’s quarterback play. Not only was Brown one of the most explosive athletes in the Big Sky Conference — enough so to earn a mini-camp tryout as a wide receiver with the Dallas Cowboys — he also was one of the most durable. Don’t expect Graves or Jenkins to carry the ball more than 200 times like Brown did each of the last two seasons. Graves is shifty and likely will evade some of the hits Brown took fighting for extra yards. He has the entire starting backfield returning to lean on and the in-game knowledge to ensure the Mustangs attack remains effective.