More than 115 players began preparations Friday afternoon at Doerr Family Field for the 2021 fall football season.
The first of 25 Fall Camp practice sessions was scheduled to last about 75 minutes, but things were going so well that second-year Mustang head coach Beau Baldwin extended the proceedings to about two hours.
"I was impressed and quite pleased with the fitness and endurance of our players today," Baldwin said after practice. "We didn't have that back in January when we started getting ready for spring ball.
"The players have done a great job since April getting ready physically for the fall season and maintaining their strength and fitness throughout the summer," Baldwin added.
The highlight of the initial practice seemed to be an 80-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Spencer Brasch, the transfer from Cal, to Zedakiah Centers, a freshman wide receiver from Servite High School in Anaheim.
Making the majority of the catches on the day was Michael Roth, a tight end a year ago who is moving to another wide receiver position.
Centers made eight catches during the abbreviated three-game spring season while Roth added four receptions, one for a touchdown.
Without the benefit yet of watching film of Friday's practice session, Baldwin could not come up with any issues that needed immediate attention.
"I have no concerns so far," Baldwin said. "It's early but everything went according to plan today."
Baldwin and his staff welcomed 48 returning lettermen, including 23 on offense, 21 on defense and four specialists on special teams. The returnees include 26 players who started at least one game during the shortened spring season -- 13 on both offense and defense.
Also on the fall roster are 31 players who were redshirts last spring or injured, and almost 40 newcomers, including up to eight transfers from other four-year schools.
Baldwin placed great offseason emphasis on work in the weight room once the spring season ended. That coincided with the installation of a tent on one of the tennis courts behind Mott Athletics Center to house an outdoor weight room.
Due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, the football team was not allowed to utilize the fully equipped strength and conditioning facility inside Mott Athletics Center, shut down via San Luis Obispo County Public Health protocols. Some players assembled in front of Mott Athletics Center to use equipment hauled outside from the weight room. Others performed their workouts at home, either in the San Luis Obispo area or back in their hometown.
The tent was installed in early April and the football team, under the guidance of Mustang strength and conditioning assistant Jordan Davis, has greatly benefitted from the move.
"We have made some huge steps forward since April 1," said Baldwin. "For the first time in 14 months, we were truly in the weight room consistently. We never had what was made available to us in April, May and June. We had guys working out in front of Mott before the tent was constructed, guys working out remotely, whether here or at their parents' home.
"Today, you definitely can see the difference, having 10 straight weeks with these guys in the weight room," Baldwin added. "I am so excited about the work the players have put in during the offseason. These guys have gone above and beyond. The continuation of where they left off in the spring is continuing to grow in the summer. You're going to see a different level of strength and muscle endurance and the ability to sustain your strength into the third and fourth quarters this fall.
"The uncertainty of 2020 definitely was hard, no doubt about that, but if we were in the weight room four days a week, we'd have been in a much different place. The biggest lack of was the foundation. We never built an offseason foundation.
"Games are won from January to August. You only practice 15 times in the spring. That leaves 200-plus days. What does that mean? It means all that weight room time, all that strength and conditioning. The consistency we've had this offseason will help us."
A total of 25 on-field practice sessions are permitted. First two practices will be with helmets and spider pads only, with shoulder pads added for the next three practices. Full pads will be allowed beginning with the sixth practice session Friday.
In general, practices will be held Monday through Friday at 9 a.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. Walk-throughs not to exceed two hours with footballs permitted will be held Mondays through Fridays at 4 p.m. Full scrimmages are planned for August 20 at 9 a.m. and August 27 at noon.
Fall camp ends with the second scrimmage and preparations for Cal Poly's opener Sept. 4 at San Diego will begin on August 29. Kickoff for the first game is set for 2:05 p.m. The Mustangs' home opener is Sept. 18 versus South Dakota at 5:05 p.m. inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium.