Tony Poljan taking reps at wide receiver

Zach Libby, Staff Writer
Chippewa Country

Photo courtesy Brian Fluharty | USA Today Sports

Tony Poljan always wanted to be a quarterback.

But standing at 6-foot-7, he was recruited to play at tight end in high school, receiving offers from multiple Big Ten schools, also hearing from Auburn and Notre Dame.

Even Michigan State, residing three miles away from his high school of Lansing Catholic, was interested. The former three-star recruit was a one-time Minnesota commit, but chose to head north to play for Central Michigan.

The Chippewas and head coach John Bonamego were apart of the small majority that found Poljan more suited to play quarterback, christened the future of the program in his three years of eligibility remaining after 2017.

It's why Bonamego, now in his third year, has had to answer when and where will Poljan get his shot as a starter this season, waiting behind graduate transfer Shane Morris.

Morris was brought in this past offseason to keep the glue together following the departure of Cooper Rush to the NFL. He's had his moments, becoming the third all-time leading passer in CMU history in a single-game against Kansas on Sept. 9.

But in the three losses since, including Saturday's 28-8 outing at Boston College to end the non-conference schedule, his efficiency is spiraling.

Morris was intercepted a career-high three times and completed 50 percent (21-of-42) of his passes for 171 yards. The running game totaled 116 yards, with redshirt freshman Kumehnnu Gwilly scoring the only touchdown for the Chippewas in the second quarter.

Morris was also sacked three times.

"I thought (Shane) made some good throws and I thought he made some bad throws," said Bonamego after the game. "There’s a couple there you’d like to have back. He was under pressure a lot today."

Without senior captain and running back Devon Spalding due to injury, Gwilly and redshirt sophomore Romello Ross received more playing time than usual.

Averaging 3.5 yards a carry, Bonaemgo attributed the difficulty passing from Morris to not being effective running the ball.

"When you can’t run the ball efficiently it puts a lot of stress on the other things," he said. You want to try to stay in third-and-manageable and we were in a lot of third-and-longs. It’s just tough on any quarterback when you’re in those situations."

Poljan, playing in his fourth game this season, threw one pass good for nine yards.

But what made the redshirt freshman stand out was his debut at at wide receiver, catching three passes for a game-high 61 yards, 19 more than senior Mark Chapman and over three times as much as redshirt senior Eric Cooper.

He had four rushes for 20 yards, almost catching a two-point conversion in the second quarter but was called off following an official review.

"The plan this week was to expand his role a little bit," Bonamego said. "He’s a quarterback, that’s what we brought him here for, but he’s also a great athlete and we feel like if we can get him on the field and use him in some other roles that will help us win we’ll continue to do that."

It's just another way the offensive staff has tried to incorporated Poljan into the system. This scheme likely won't be used for much longer, as he was brought in as a quarterback, nothing more.

“Tony’s an athlete, he’s a quarterback, a quarterback first, and he’s a phenomenal athlete, he’s a tremendous competitor," Bonamego said. "If you go back to what I said before the first game, I said we’re going to find ways to get Tony Poljan in the game."

Central Michigan will head to Ohio for its conference road opener next week at Peden Stadium in Athens. Kickoff is at 2 p.m.

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