SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- The new-look Cal Poly football team opened up training camp Thursday morning, beginning a new era it hopes will see the program return back to national prominence.
After a less-than-successful three-year stint under Beau Baldwin, the Mustangs have turned to new head coach Paul Wulff, with the hope the former Washington State and Eastern Washington head coach will be able oversee a turnaround with the program and reestablish a winning tradition.
The Mustangs have finished with six straight losing seasons, compiling a disappointing 13-45 overall record from 2017 to 2022.
With Wulff now in charge, Cal Poly is looking to return back to its winning ways, similar to the success the Mustangs enjoyed in the early 2000's under head coach Rich Ellerson.
On Thursday, the Mustangs officially opened fall camp with about 120 players on the field at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
"I guess you can say in the football world, it's like Christmas," said Wulff. "First day and a lot of things to open up and see for the first time for coaches and players, to see what's changed and who has made some differences in their bodies and installing some new things, and those types of things, so it's a lot of fun and there's a lot of excitement on the first day, so it's nice to get the first day done, so we can now start taking some steps."
The two-hour practice marked the first time the team has met for an official on-field practice since spring camp, which concluded on April 29.
"It is highly anticipated to get out here today," said transfer quarterback Sam Huard. "Our team really had a great summer. I feel like we put in a lot of work. Everyone has really bought in and we continue to build on a great spring and a great summer and now getting here on day one of camp I felt like we were getting the jitters out a little bit and everyone has been anxious to get camp started and get rolling, but super happy how today went and a beautiful day here as always and we got after it as well."
Huard, who was a five-star recruit while in high school at Kennedy Catholic High School in Burien, Washington, is one of several new faces on the Mustangs this season.
While at Kennedy Catholic, Huard set a Washington state high school passing record and finished with 13,214 passing yards and 153 touchdowns.
Huard was ranked as ESPN's highest-rated quarterback prospect in the 2021 recruiting class, as well as the 15th overall prospect. He is easily the highest profile recruit to ever sign with Cal Poly.
"We have a lot to prove and this group is really hungry," said Huard. "We've had a great summer really pushing each other. We know what it takes to win championships. It takes a lot of work and it takes a lot of commitment and grit and this team, we're hungry."
Huard's head coach at Kennedy Catholic was Sheldon Cross, who was hired by Wulff to serve as offensive coordinator/running backs coach.
Huard is the son of Damon Huard and nephew of Brock Huard, who both played in the NFL. Damon Huard spent 12 years in the NFL, and twice earned a Super Bowl ring while serving as a backup to Tom Brady with the New England Patriots. All three Huards played quarterback at the University of Washington.
Sam Huard played two seasons with the Huskies and finished with 265 passing yards, one touchdown and four interceptions.
He arrived at Cal Poly this past Friday and will enter the university as a redshirt sophomore.
"We're really excited and we've been pushing each other," said Huard. "We definitely have a lot to prove, but at the same time, we're going to take it one day at a time and keep getting better. We know what we're capable of doing and we're excited to keep working and go show people what we're about."
Overall, Cal Poly will feature 61 returners off last year’s roster and 13 players who were true freshmen last year that played in at least one game, but no more than four to preserve their redshirt year.
There are five transfer players, all of whom are arriving from the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) programs, including Huard.
Other FBS transfers are Carlton Brown, a tight end from Nevada; Ethan Calvert, a linebacker from Utah; Thomas Cole, an offensive lineman from UCLA; and Reed Shumpert, a wide receiver from Washington State.
Cal Poly will also return several starters from last year's roster. This year's squad includes 22 players who started at least five games last season, nine on offense, 10 on defense, and three specialists.
"This is a team that has the ability to stay laying a quality foundation on the football field and game days and we feel like we have the pieces to really start doing some things for Cal Poly football, but there's work to be done to get there," said Wulff. "(Fans) are going to see a good football team. We don't know exactly what that's going to look like in regards to how many wins and all those things. We feel like we've got a position to win every game right now on our schedule, but you're going to see an exciting football team and you're going to see a more mature football team. I think people are going to be really surprised when they watch us play over the season."
Cal Poly will kickoff the 2023 season at home on Sept. 2 against San Diego. Tickets are available for purchase at GoPoly.com/tickets.