‘Next man up’: David Moore, Kobe Lewis to replace injured offensive leaders
With senior starting quarterback Quinten Dormady and senior running back Jonathan Ward out indefinitely due to injuries, the Central Michigan football team is forced to adjust quickly to the loss of its offensive leaders.
From the moment Dormady, graduate transfer, committed to Central Michigan for his final year of college football, he was considered the frontrunner for the starting quarterback job. After all, he had experience as the starter on an SEC team in Tennessee, where he made five starts in the 2017 season.
In total, Dormady had seven touchdowns and six interceptions on 102-of-181 passing for 1,290 yards over the course of 14 appearances in his time with the Volunteers.
A serious shoulder injury ended Dormady’s 2017 campaign, and at the end of the season, he transferred to Houston. There, Dormady operated as the team’s third-string quarterback.
He played in only one game, allowing him to take a redshirt and snag one more year of eligibility, which brought Dormady to Mount Pleasant.
Moving forward without leaders Dormady and Ward on the field in the upcoming weeks, the Chippewas have their work cut out for them, starting with Akron on Sept. 14 in a 3 p.m. home game at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
First-year CMU coach Jim McElwain opted not to name Dormady as his starting quarterback until mid-August, but all indications throughout the spring and summer stated that Dormady would be the man under center when the regular season arrived.
Back on April 13, Dormady was one of five “captains” for the Kids Clinic held prior to the football team’s open spring practice. He was the lone newcomer to the team selected to help lead the activities for the clinic.
In late July, even before being officially announced as the starter a week before the opener, Dormady received glowing remarks from his coach and veteran center.
“Quinten has done a really good job of leading the team, and I’m looking forward for him as we open up the season,” McElwain said at the time.
Senior lineman Steve Eipper was in agreement, saying that Dormady “prepares like nobody I’ve ever seen. Quinten’s the first one in and the last one out, and he’s all for the guys.”
Dormady earned the trust and respect of the program in a short amount of time, and the rest of the Chippewas felt comfortable with him under center. Things went smoothly as Dormady began taking most of the first-team reps in the buildup to CMU’s season opener against Albany.
Delivering with a very solid Chippewas debut, Dormady completed 27-of-37 passes for 285 yards and three touchdowns against the Great Danes in a 38-21 win. It was a performance that gave hope to those who endured the 1-11 season only a year ago.
However, Dormady injured his knee on the first drive of the afternoon against Wisconsin, and though he tried to fight through it on the next drive, his day was done before the first quarter ended.
McElwain said Dormady tweaked his knee, and the 6-foot-5, 219-pound quarterback will be out for at least two games and perhaps for the majority of the 2019 campaign.
In that same stretch of injury updates, McElwain dropped another bombshell: veteran standout Ward will also be sidelined for the foreseeable future after being pulled early from the Wisconsin game.
Ward is suffering from a shoulder injury that has ailed him in seasons past, and in the matchup against the Badgers, he had only one rush and one catch for a total of 12 yards – a far cry from the 211 total yards and two touchdowns Ward amassed in the season opener against Albany.
Respected by coaches and teammates alike, Ward is seen as one of the team’s biggest voices this season.
“Jonathan was voted by the team to be a captain [Week 1 against Albany], which kinda shows a little bit about what he did this offseason as a leader and what he did through camp,” McElwain said.
In the 2017 season, Ward racked up close to 1,500 total yards and 13 touchdowns as a sophomore, turning a lot of heads with his productivity.
Ward’s shoulder problems played a major role in limiting his success in the 2018 season. The 6-foot, 202-pound back managed 253 total yards as a junior last year.
Prior to reinjuring his shoulder, Ward looked poised to return to his 2017 level of production. Until further notice, however, he’ll now be on the sideline alongside Dormady on game days.
“Right now, it’s all in the doctors’ hands,” McElwain said. “They’re gonna tell us, and obviously the kids’ bodies will tell us when we’ll get them back.”
‘Next guy up’
Until the Chippewas get leaders Dormady and Ward back on the field, the mantle rests on backups to make sure there’s no dropoff in performance on the offensive side of the ball.
A tough challenge awaits; it takes months for an offensive unit to get comfortable with its backfield, and now both parts of that starting backfield are gone at once.
With that said, McElwain has delegated the starting quarterback job to junior David Moore, while sophomore Kobe Lewis will take the reps previously given to Ward.
In his time filling in for Dormady against the Badgers on Sept. 7, Moore went 3-of-11 for one yard in the passing game. His throws were erratic, and not just because of the tremendous pressure applied by the Wisconsin defense.
Perhaps it can be chalked up to being thrown into the middle of a game against a ranked opponent, but the Chippewas will likely need a much, much better performance from him in future weeks.
Moore began his collegiate career at Memphis, where he played five games in the 2017 season. He threw for 63 yards on 7-of-10 passing and had four touchdowns in his time as a Tiger.
Garden City Community College was the next stop for Moore. In his lone season quarterbacking at the junior college level, he accounted for 837 yards through the air and also rushed for five touchdowns en route to a 10-1 record and appearance in the NJCAA title game.
Now Moore gets his chance to step in as a starter at CMU and pilot the Chippewas to success this season.
That begins with Akron on Saturday.
McElwain, for one, believes Moore has what it takes to keep CMU’s season afloat.
“We’ve got total confidence in David,” McElwain said. “Nothing changes in the game plan. He can execute everything that we want from him.”
Standing next to Moore in the backfield on the first drive of the game will be Lewis, who will likely see a big uptick in usage in the ensuing weeks.
Lewis appeared in all 12 games in the 2018 season but only carried the ball 10 times for 37 yards as a running back. This year, Lewis has already surpassed his marks from 2018 with 16 carries for 57 yards through two games.
In addition to Lewis, McElwain will look to utilize true freshman Lew Nichols, who has seen end-of-game action in each of the two games thus far. He has 41 yards on seven rushes this season, including a nine-yard run against Wisconsin -- the longest run of the day.
Junior Kumehnnu Gwilly and senior Romelo Ross may get some carries as well.
“Lew has done a really good job coming in as a ‘3’,” McElwain said. “He obviously elevates as a ‘2’. Gwilly and Ross too, when given the opportunity, those guys are gonna have to go in and play hard at the running back spot.”
McElwain mentioned that quarterbacks Tommy Lazzaro and Daniel Richardson could also potentially see game action in the coming weeks, depending on how things go.
In this regard, McElwain’s decision to leave the quarterback race open until late in the summer may come in handy: all four quarterbacks had a chance to run with the team’s top offensive weapons over the course of the offseason.
CMU’s chance at victory this weekend hinges on how seamlessly Moore, Lewis and the other backups will integrate into their new roles.
“We took our lumps a little bit but, you know, it’s ‘next guy up’ and I’m excited to see those guys play,” McElwain said.