Notebook: Top highlights, news from Central Michigan football media day
Bringing a calm, cool and collected set of emotions, first-year coach Jim McElwain casually walked to the lectern, cracked a few jokes and ended up holding the longest press conference since his arrival in December.
McElwain put his enthusiasm for the 2019 season on center stage as Central Michigan hosted its annual football media day Friday at Kelly/Shorts Stadium and inside the trailers that currently hold everything a typical locker room would while the Chippewa Champions Center is being built.
Offensive and defensive coordinator Charlie Frye and Robb Akey, respectively, along with multiple players, also gave examples of what the squad will look like come Aug. 29 when the Chippewas open the season against Albany.
"We've got to make Kelly/Shorts a place nobody wants to come to play," McElwain said. "We have to get that back and understand it's first and foremost.
"More than anything, truly be proud of how you played the game. Don't look at the scoreboard. Let's just go out there and get better every day."
Here's everything you need to know from Friday's media day.
Tight end Keegan Cossou was the first name McElwain mentioned, as he's expected to return soon after missing all of fall camp. Starting center Steve Eipper, who has been out with an infection from a cut while working construction over the summer, will return Saturday or Sunday.
Fellow offensive lineman Nick Follmer is back. Sophomore running back Kobe Lewis is ahead of schedule, and McElwain believes he will return to full practice leading into game week. In the meantime, Lewis will continue to do select drills during camp.
Offensive lineman Oge Udeogu, who had plantar fasciitis because of a shoe size that didn't fit properly, is expected to return Saturday.
Both defensive lineman Johnathan Berghorst and offensive lineman Ja'Raymond Hall are still recovering from pre-existing injuries and might not be able to play in 2019. Offensive lineman Romello Tarver has a knee injury and is still awaiting MRI results.
"I don't know where that's going to be," McElwain said of Berghorst, Hall and Tarver. "We'll update further and see where that leads. Those three guys, it's going to be hard for them to get back this season."
In a scrimmage Thursday night, wide receiver Cameron Cole injured his shoulder, but McElwain doesn't expect him to miss more than three or four days. Quarterback George Pearson twisted his leg at the same scrimmage, but he's supposed to return in a week.
Defensive lineman Leon Page has been out with a previous knee injury. McElwain said he doesn't know if Page will be able to return for the season, as it depends on the doctors.
"We'll see if he can rehab it and get back during the middle of the year," McElwain said. "But we might have to go into surgery. Time will tell."
Defensive lineman D'Andre Dill is back to 100% after a fractured bone in his knee at practice late last season set him back for 3-6 months. After two knee injuries (ACL), the tackle is focused on rejuvenating his body.
"I've really been trying to stay on top of myself," Dill said. "I've been exercising a lot and have lost about 10-15 pounds, so I've started to train my body well. I feel good."
Linebacker Nick Apsey is also back from a leg sprain.
"From an injury front, when you look at where we are at, I feel really good," McElwain said. "That's a credit to the work they put in and the new strength and conditioning program. I'm really proud of what those guys have done."
McElwain made it clear: "None of these guys are going to win the Heisman Trophy."
He's not wrong.
However, the true freshmen he first mentioned as athletes that will likely get plenty of action were offensive linemen Deiyantei Powell-Woods and Danny Motowski.
"They're ahead of their time," he said. "They've done a great job."
McElwain added defensive lineman Jacques Bristol, linebacker Justin Whiteside, safety Trey Jones, cornerback Kyron McKinnie-Harper to the list.
"I know I'm missing a couple guys, but you're going to see a lot of new faces on the field as we play this year," McElwain said.
Sophomore Kobe Lewis and true freshman Lew Nichols (youngest of the backs) are the two players senior running back Jonathan Ward has the highest hopes for in his position room.
"They're going to be special," Ward said. "Kobe hasn't seen much playing time due to injuries and a stacked running back room, but he has talent. He has a bright future, and so does Lew Nichols."
Sophomore Devonni Reed works alongside senior Da'Quaun Jamison as the starting safeties. Based on fall camp, Reed said it's clear all the true freshman have a "hunger mentality" entering the campaign.
He mentioned McKinnie-Harper, Jones and Ormondell Dingle as true freshmen safeties that have impressed him early.
"The message to these guys is to be patient," Reed said. "Sometimes, your time is not now. When you get the chance, make the most of it."
The offense will be a run-pass option under McElwain. Senior graduate transfer quarterback Quinten Dormady said the scheme will look extremely similar to what McElwain featured as Florida's coach.
"It's what everybody runs," McElwain said. "It's the same thing."
McElwain alluded to using three tight ends and one receiver in certain packages. More specifically, inserting redshirt freshman tight end Joel Wilson as a receiver to complement tight ends Tony Poljan and Bernhard Raimann.
When McElwain was at Florida, his offenses finished No. 100 in 2015, No. 107 in 2016 and No. 109 in 2017. There are only 130 FBS programs in the country, meaning McElwain wasn't even near the top half during any point in his Gator career.
Bringing McElwain, Frye, wide receivers coach Kevin Barbay, offensive line coach Mike Cummings, running backs coach Cornell Jackson and tight ends coach Tavita Thompson together has allowed the staff to take what each coach has done across their personal journey and mold it into one system.
"It's not about the plays, it's about the details within the plays and how we execute," Frye added.
For portions of fall camp, Ward's joined the wide receivers to work on those drills along with his typical running back duties. He's grown close with slot receiver Kalil Pimpleton, picking up pointers along the way.
"It's a personnel game," Frye said. "You want to do what your players are best at. If we can create matchups or put him in spots to be successful, that's what we will do. It's all about the situation."
Ward said the run-passion option, spread offense only accompanies his style of play. He caught 48 passes for 470 yards and three touchdowns in 2017 to go with over 1,000 yards and 10 scores on the ground.
"Being able to line up in the slot and backfield at any moment keeps the defense on their toes," he said. "I'm excited to see what it does this season."
Reed goes up against McElwain's offense each day at practice. He described it as electric.
"Our offense will put up points and are making big plays in practice," Reed said.
Dormady takes hold, Ward looks to improve, Poljan a 'difference maker'
From the moment Dormady arrived as a graduate transfer from Houston, he took hold of the reins and began molding himself as the starting quarterback, McElwain said.
Others, like Ward and wide receiver JaCorey Sullivan, noticed him as an immediate leader.
Sullivan: "It feels good to have a quarterback that knows every position on the field and how he reads defenses. The energy he brings and gives off to us and we can learn from him, too."
Ward: "We click. It's good to have a guy come in that knows the game already. We're just building trust with him Going through spring and fall ball, I know I can rely on him."
In the run-pass option, spread offense, Dormady said to expect him as a pocket passer more often than not, but he claims to hold some skillset in the run game.
"I'm not a guy who's going to run 50 zone reads per game or take off 25 times in a game," Dormady said. "But I have the ability to get out of the pocket, but you have to in today's game."
Through five seasons, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound quarterback has run the ball just 22 times for 21 yards without a score.
Dormady brings veteran leadership even though it's his first season with the Chippewas. He's a rare double-graduate transfer, 23 years old, married and taking just one graduate class to focus on football one last time.
This isn't his first rodeo – everyone knows that.
"I'm trying to help some of the younger guys who may not have been in the same situations I've been in," Dormady said. "I've been to a couple different places in a lot of situations, so I always think there's something that I can bring and help the younger guys."
Even though Dormady holds the top spot, others are fighting behind him for the backup role. McElwain noted junior David Moore as one of the best performers in Thursday night's scrimmage.
"David is ready to play, as well," McElwain said.
When speaking on Ward's struggles last season, McElwain didn't want to comment on his 212 yards and one touchdown performance.
Why might that be?
Well, it's because McElwain gave everyone a fresh slate at the beginning of his tenure.
"He's been a great teammate, attacked the weight room, is a leader and has been a real voice," McElwain said. "We'll see if that continues or not. I've said from the get-go, he needs to get touches."
Even though some might think of Ward as "not himself" during the rough 1-11 campaign, he said otherwise.
"I wouldn't say I ever left," Ward said. "Getting back and playing together as one is a big part of letting me expose my abilities."
Since he was benched as quarterback in the third week of the 2018 season, Poljan slowly but surely made the switch to tight end, a move that might end up changing the course of his career.
McElwain described Poljan as a "difference maker" due to his size, speed, power and blocking ability, adding he has a "bright future" in his new spot.
"His ceiling is as high as he wants to take it," Frye said, agreeing with McElwain.
Dormady's been impressed, as well.
"He understands where I'm coming from; I understand where he's coming from. We have that dialogue," Dormady said. "Him being such a big target, he's going to snag it."
Nobody wanted to give too much away, but Akey made a few points known.
The Chippewas are going to attack and remain aggressive throughout all four quarters.
"To play that way, there has to be energy," Akey said, projecting his voice to all walls of the room. "You better be flying around. If we get more bodies there, we have an opportunity to make something happen."
Senior linebacker Michael Oliver explained CMU has many "different packages" and tons of formations to utilize this year.
"Defensively, we are going to give offenses a lot of trouble trying to figure it out," he said. "We have a lot of athleticism and size in."
Reed made note that the safeties are going to be more aggressive this season, as well, loading up in the box and even blitzing on occasion. From the looks of it, Akey might bring an extra safety (like Alonzo McCoy) in the box to act as a linebacker and create a 3-4 defensive look.
"I can say this, we are going to be way more aggressive this year and will try to get more hits on the quarterback," Reed said. "That's all I can say."
Dill made similar remarks.
"I can just say, we plan on playing very aggressive," he added. "That's really all I can say."
Oliver leads linebackers, Hairston moves to DL
Just like in baseball, McElwain stressed the importance of being strong up the middle.
That begins with Oliver.
"He's a good leader and tackles really well," McElwain said. "I've been impressed with how he handles the seams when he needs to."
In 11 games, of which he started six, Oliver made 31 tackles, two tackles for a loss and one sack in 2018.
Sophomore Troy Brown has given McElwain hope for depth in the linebacker room, as he's emerged out of nowhere.
"This guy can really run," McElwain said. "He's been an unknown for us that's really stepped up at that position. (Sophomore Andrew) Ward is another guy that's finding his way and figuring out what to do."
McElwain mentioned redshirt freshman Cory Gildersleeve Jr. and sophomore Chuck Jones as other linebackers that have impressed him. Junior Troy Hairston has been moved to defensive end and is actually competing for a starting gig.
Hairston has become such an important piece that McElwain knocked on wood at the press conference when discussing his positive health.
McElwain wishes he had Dormady at Florida
Dormady committed to Tennessee on June 9, 2014, and he enrolled in January 2015. By the time McElwain got to Florida in December 2014, Dormady was nearing his enrollment to attend school in Knoxville.
If only McElwain could've gotten to the four-star quarterback from Boerne High School in Texas earlier because it was clear, he wanted him.
"Had we of been there earlier, we probably would've gotten on him earlier," said McElwain, who did not sign a quarterback to the Gators in the 2015 class.
Updates on Brian Edwards, Deron Irving-Bey
The appeals for safety Brian Edwards (Florida transfer) and defensive end Deron Irving-Bey (Michigan transfer) to become eligible to play in the 2019 season have been submitted to the NCAA.
"We just tell the truth, and they make a decision," McElwain said. "I don't even know who makes the decision, but I know everything has been done (on our end). Our compliance office has been fantastic."
Bono to McElwain transition
Following Toledo's 51-13 victory over the Chippewas in the final 2018 game, Reed said he was already thinking about the next season. He didn't want 1-11 to happen ever again.
"I was just thinking, 'Yeah, it's a new season now, and it's going to be very different,'" the 6-foot, 188-pounder said.
Shortly after that bus ride from Toledo that felt like an exhausting trip back from Florida, former coach John Bonamego was fired and McElwain was later hired. Reed was shocked.
"He's the real deal," Reed said. "When I figured out he was our coach, I looked him up and was like, 'Man, he's the real deal.' He really turned programs around. We are lucky to have him."
Grad assistants, quality control coaches
The full list of four graduate assistants and four quality control coaches have been made known.
Those members of the staff include:
Adam Cox (defensive line/special teams graduate assistant), former Iowa fullback from 2011-15
Ben DeBastiani (offensive line graduate assistant), son of linebackers coach Mark DeBastiani
Steve Ferentz (defensive graduate assistant), former Iowa offensive lineman from 2012-16
Jake Kostner (quarterbacks graduate assistant), former Michigan player personnel intern and student field manager
Austin Appleby (quality control), former Purdue (2012-15) and Florida (2016) quarterback
Jason Johnson (quality control), recruiting assistant for Chippewas
Justin Joyce (offensive quality control), former Iowa quarterback from 2013-14
Isaac Martinez (quality control)
It's also worth noting former graduate assistant Corey Fuller, a former NFL player (2013-17), has left the program.