Three key players return, Lazzaro ready for first start
A lot is going on with Central Michigan's football team.
But the main concern remains – the Chippewas are still winless.
Junior quarterback Tommy Lazzaro is preparing for his first start, three players who have been injured are returning this week and former starting quarterback Tony Poljan is filling a new role in the offense for head coach John Bonamego.
The Chippewas are 0-3 on the season and 0-1 in the Mid-American Conference after a Week 3 loss to Northern Illinois. The battle to get into the win column doesn't get much easier as CMU's upcoming opponent, the Maine Black Bears, are 2-0 on the season and ranked No. 13 in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Top 25.
CMU and Maine face off at 3 p.m. on Sept. 22 from Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
"It's do or die," said senior linebacker Malik Fountain. "We just have to play ball. It's time to show up, and we are ready."
Senior tight end Logan Hessbrook has been out for the entire 2018 season with a concussion. He is finally cleared to play and get in the game against Maine. The same goes for senior offensive lineman Clay Walderzak, who has missed multiple games over his career with knee injuries.
"How many snaps we give (Logan) is to be determined," Bonamego said. "Clay is the same way."
Redshirt freshman safety Alonzo McCoy started Week 1 against Kentucky but has been absent since. He will return to the gridiron while running back Romello Ross remains inactive.
Lazzaro Ready for First Start
After Lazzaro nearly led a comeback victory over Northern Illinois once being placed into the game midway through the third quarter, Bonamego's staff have handed the starting role to the junior.
He was 13-of-22 through the air for 128 yards and a touchdown, chipping in 55 yards and a score running the ball.
"He has the ability to move the team down the field," Bonamego said of Lazzaro. "He's decisive and aggressive with his throws. I saw his ability to maneuver in the pocket and extend plays. He's not always right, but very few quarterbacks will be perfect."
Bonamego said Lazzaro has prepared like he was the starter since joining the Chippewas in 2016, even while sitting behind Cooper Rush, Shane Morris and eventually Poljan.
"You never know when your opportunities are going to come in this game," Bonamego added. "Roles change over a football season for a variety of reasons, but you have to be prepared.
"He's earned the opportunity."
Even though Lazzaro controlled a starters preparation since transferring from Dodge City Community College, he admits the mindset could be a little different.
“The mindset might be a little different, but the preparation is the same,” Lazzaro said of moving from backup to starter. “I’ll be in Coach (Chris) Ostrowsky’s ear a little more.”
Fountain, a senior captain on the team, said his faith in Lazzaro is over the top. He hopes his new starting quarterback will help keep the defense off the field more than Poljan did in the first three games of the season.
"We have a lot of faith in Tommy," Fountain said. "We know he's going to move the chains and help (the defense) keep our legs fresh. We just want to see him ball out."
Poljan Ready for New Role
As one quarterback moved up in the depth chart, another moved down – but just in one category.
Poljan might not be the starting quarterback, but he will remain the No. 2 option under center and work as a tight end and wide receiver moving forward.
The redshirt sophomore is ready for the transition.
"Ultimately, I'm a team player, and I trust my coaches," Poljan said. "Whatever the coaches decide, I'll do. I really just want to see this team have success."
At 6-foot-7, Bonamego said Poljan is still a key factor in CMU's future success and provides too much of an offensive boost to keep off the field.
"Tony Poljan's too good of an athlete to stand on the sidelines with a clipboard," Bonamego said. "We need to get him on the field because he can help us win."
In 2017, Poljan lost the quarterback battle to Morris, but appeared in all 13 games as a quarterback and wide receiver, with plenty of designed quarterback run plays.
He completed 10-of-17 passes for 61 yards, caught five passes for 97 yards and ran 23 times for 110 yards and a touchdown. Despite the struggles at quarterback, the 225 pounder still provides a profusion of value to the table.
"Tommy is the starter going forward, and Tony has handled it about as classy as you possibly could," Bonamego said. "I'm not going to give you the playbook but obviously (wide receiver and tight end) are ways we've used him in the past."
Lazzaro said throwing the ball to Poljan instead of watching him throw to other receivers has been a little different to get used to. The new starter gave credit to Poljan for his mindset and athletic abilities.
Fountain Reflects on Defensive Player of the Week
Senior linebacker Malik Fountain made 18 tackles, one tackle for a loss, and one sack against the Huskies a week ago, all while playing for the late Derrick Nash and his aunt battling breast cancer.
He was honored with the MAC West Defensive Player of the Week award but, but he claims to have much more in store for the remainder of the season.
"I just have to keep going," Fountain said. "I don't really look at that stuff. It's a great honor, but I have to continue to improve."
In order to get into the win column, Fountain is urging the team to commit to the scheme, program and each other.
"At the end of the day, we have to fight for each other and pay attention to detail," he added.
Akron defensive back Alvin Davis was awarded Defensive Player of the Week in the MAC East Division with two interceptions for touchdowns and 10 total tackles.