Note: One in a series of previews of the Central Michigan football team as it prepares for its 2018 season opener at Kentucky on Sept. 1. Today: The Offense. Wednesday: The Quarterbacks.
Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – It’s an old football axiom that it takes time, and with it patience, for an offense to take root and then to produce.
Case in point: Central Michigan football in 2017. The Chippewas faced some bumps in the road early on under then-first-year offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Chris Ostrowsky.
But once things started to click, well, things started to click. The Chippewas averaged 41-plus points in their final five regular-season games (all of them victories); Shane Morris finished as the No. 2 passer in the Mid-American Conference; and running back Jonathan Ward ended up as the league’s third-leading rusher and CMU’s first 1,000-yard back since 2014.
But that was then and this is now. Ward returns, but Morris has graduated as have the Chippewas’ top three pass catchers, the highly productive trio of Tyler Conklin, Mark Chapman and Corey Willis.
And an axiom as old as the offense/patience lament is one regarding ever-changing personnel. In college football, the only constant is change.
“Even if it’s the same guys, it changes,” Ostrowsky said. “For me it’s not about how do we replace those guys, it’s about coaching this team right now and where it sits today.”
And where it sits 3 ½ weeks from the opener is with a new quarterback in redshirt sophomore Tony Poljan. Poljan was much heralded when he signed with CMU in 2016 after a brilliant career at Lansing Catholic High School, the same school that produced all-time great Chippewa signal-caller Cooper Rush, who is now with the Dallas Cowboys.
Poljan took a good number of snaps a year ago while backing up Morris, and he also saw the field as a receiver, all the better to take advantage of size (he is 6-foot-7, 225 pounds) and rare athleticism.
Ward burst on the scene a year ago, finishing with 1,489 combined yards in rushing and receiving and scoring 13 touchdowns. His 114.5 all-purpose yards per game ranked third in the MAC as he emerged from a strong corps of running backs, including Romello Ross and Kumehnnu Gwilly, who are now a junior and a sophomore, respectively.
The nucleus of the offensive line comprises seniors Shakir Carr and Clay Walderzak along with junior Steve Eipper.
The aforementioned receiving corps will be led by junior Brandon Childress, who had shown steady growth throughout his three seasons in the program before being injured in the Chippewas’ second game a year ago.
Fifth-year senior Devon Spalding, a one-time running back who missed two-thirds of the '17 season with an injury, is among a deep pool of candidates who are vying for playing time. Among the many others are juniors Jamil Sabbagh and Damon Terry along with sophomore JaCorey Sullivan.
“From year to year you change and tweak to adapt to what’s coming next,” Ostrowsky said. “I think the change is adaptable to your talent and what they do well. We’ll always try to showcase what our kids do best.”
There is a familiarity what with it being the second year in Ostrowsky’s system. Certainly, many of the player, such as Poljan and Childress, will have to take on much higher-profile roles and the individual expectation on such players will naturally increase.
But none is a fresh-off-the-bus newcomer.
“Year 2 is always absolutely way easier than Year 1,” Ostrowsky said. “From an understanding standpoint we’re certainly way ahead of where we were last year at this point.
“For me it’s about who is going to keep their poise when it gets chaotic because when the bullets are flying it’s the guys who are able to process information that are successful.”