Pro Day brings CMU's secondary together one last time
There was a feeling of both contentment and anxiety within Central Michigan football head coach John Bonamego when he watched three of last season’s starting defensive backs at Pro Day.
Of course, he is proud of their upcoming opportunities in professional football, but would also be more elated if they were leaving one at a time.
“It’s a little scary to see how much experience we’re losing in the secondary,” Bonamego said, light-heartedly. “It’s a double-edge sword, but those guys have done a great job.”
Amari Coleman, Josh Cox and Darwyn Kelly had their final moments with the Chippewas spent in front of coaches and scouts from all 32 NFL teams, along with representatives from the Canadian Football League, at the Indoor Athletic Complex last Friday.
It’s a fitting finale after the success the trio enjoyed this past regular-season, finishing with 31 takeaways to lead the NCAA Division I FBS, which consisted of 19 interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries.
Way beyond the initial goal of 20, their statement making performance earned them not only All-Mid-American Conference recognition, but also lofting interest from a handful of NFL organizations.
For Kelly, who was granted a release from Illinois as a graduate transfer, felt a sense of camaraderie in the locker room during his one season at CMU that couldn’t be matched elsewhere.
“To have Josh and Amari by my side was great,” Kelly said. “The relationship that I was able to build with them, having people like them out there when we’re all working towards the same goal, it’s beautiful.”
Without donning a helmet or padding, running through the various instructions essentially turned into a competition as to who could out perform the other. Known for his easygoing personality, Cox sensed that it was just another day in the office.
“We were just clowning in defensive back drills,” Cox said laughing. “We knew that we can do this with our eyes closed.
Making the switch from cornerback to safety in 2017, Cox led CMU with six interceptions, including two in the triple-overtime win over Rhode Island in the season-opener.
Leader In the Wake
The change was due to in part to have room available to elevate sophomore cornerback Sean Bunting, after appearing in every game in 2016 but starting just once.
Bunting had to wait until the ninth week of the season to record his first interception, the same week Central Michigan pulled off a game-winning touchdown in Kalamazoo against Western Michigan, which marked the beginning of four consecutive wins.
He finished the season with five total picks.
Deemed the next man to carry the torch within the secondary, it was bitter sweet for Bunting watching his former teammates at Pro Day, giving his regard for them to live out their dreams.
“I’m happy for them, I’m truly blessed for them,” Bunting said. “I know they work hard and try to succeed every day. I have love for them always.”
With spring practice having begun last Sunday, the month spent before the team scrimmage at 1 p.m. on April 21 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium will be Bunting’s time to prove his worth as a coherent leader.
“I’ve been telling (the younger guys) that we have to live up to expectations that were set last season,” Bunting said. “We can’t come out complacent, we cant come out thinking they owe us anything. We have to establish our own identity and put in the work to do it.”
When asked what he’ll miss once his time with the Chippewas is over, Coleman thought for a second before going on about the brotherhood that never seemed to disappear.
Finishing with a 4.51 40-yard time, 39 inch vertical jump and 19 reps on the bench press, Coleman felt his best resulted in overall pleasing numbers. The 2018 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl participant met with the Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets and Detroit Lions that day.
Coleman will finish his four-year run with 139 tackles, 28 passes deflected and eight interceptions, yearning for another chance to compete alongside the three others that made-up the fabled secondary unit.
“Playing with them during the season and having them out here once again is comfortable,” Coleman said. “For us to have this opportunity is a blessing.”