Underrated quarterback signee Tyler Pape aims to build legacy at Central Michigan

Central Michigan quarterback Tyler Pape signs his national letter of intent Dec. 18 at Western High School in Parma, Michigan. (Photo: Tyler Pape)

Tyler Pape was doing lat rows on a hammer press machine when trainer Ryan Van Dyke entered the weight room.

Pape didn't look anything like a quarterback.

"Holy shit, this kid looks like an outside linebacker," Van Dyke thought to himself.

The three-star prospect from Western High School in Parma, Michigan, noticed Van Dyke's presence, but he finished his rep before shaking his hand.

Pape and Van Dyke linked up for the first time in January 2019 and have been working together ever since.

And Van Dyke's hands still hurt from catching Pape's passes every day at 6 a.m. for seven weeks.

"The dude throws a different revolution of the ball," Van Dyke said. "You can hear it. I think that’s natural but very unique. You don’t get that a lot."

The revolution Pape puts on the ball is natural because of his 6-foot-4, 215-pound stature. His hands are larger than most, giving him maximum grip on the football.

While most quarterbacks extend their hand when throwing and flick it down toward the ground with their index finger as the last body part to touch the ball, Pape is able to use his entire hand to increase the speed of his pass. His hand size gives him an advantage.

Playing college football from 1998-2001 at Michigan State, Van Dyke compares Pape to former Spartan quarterback Kirk Cousins, who was an underrated prospect from Holland Christian High School.

There are similarities in the recruiting process between Pape and the current starting quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings.

But Pape is five times more athletic.

"I know Kirk personally, and he’d agree," Van Dyke said. "He can throw the ball 70 yards and is a physical specimen. He’s going to work at it. It matters to him."

The underrated aspect of Pape can be attributed to coming from Western High School, a small program 45 miles west of Ann Arbor.

However, Central Michigan made its move on the pro-style quarterback and capitalized on the unknown.

Pape was offered by the Chippewas April 7, committed June 20 and signed his national letter of intent Dec. 18 as part of the NCAA early signing period. 

"The program that they are building, it was the right decision for me," Pape said. "It all worked out just the way I wanted it."

Finding Pape

Director of player personnel Albert Karschnia had Pape at the top of his quarterback board from the beginning of his recruitment.

Pape's grandfather, Eric Pape, played at Central Michigan in the 1960s, creating a direct pipeline for the Pape family to become Chippewas.

But Pape's relationship with Central Michigan wasn't what led to the offer, and he doesn't often talk about his grandfather's time spent on the football team.

Pape wants to build his own legacy.

"It’s not like we offered him as a favor," Karschnia said. "He’s a true Chippewa, and I think he’s one of the best quarterbacks around."

Even McElwain was quick to admit the small-town quarterback was the No. 1 option.

"He's a kid that we identified early and had at the top of the board throughout the whole process," McElwain said. "He's a very instinctive kid."

While at Parma Western as a two-year starter, Pape threw for 3,050 yards and 39 touchdowns while rushing for 1,101 yards and 23 touchdowns for a total of 4,151 yards and 63 scores.

He holds single-game records for passing yards (401), passing touchdowns (6) and rushing touchdowns (6). He also obtains the program season records for passing touchdowns (23) and rushing touchdowns (17).

Pape led his team to a district championship in 2018 and was named All-State Second Team in 2019.

"On the field, I play with a lot of grit," Pape said. "I'm not afraid to take hits or give hits out. Being a bigger guy, I'm not the type to slide that often. I want to lower my shoulder. I've got a strong arm and make pretty good decisions."

Since Pape didn't start until he was a junior, he learned from Steele Fortress, a quarterback that continued his playing career at Michigan Tech.

Part of that played into Pape's lack of early offers.

“He was a late bloomer," Van Dyke said. "If you’re not a sophomore getting attention, people think you’re late. At the same point in time, he also had a guy in front of him to learn from."

During the coaching turnover from former coach John Bonamego to McElwain, Karschnia was allowed to go on the road and watch prospects workout.

When Karschnia pulled up to Pape's high school in January, he had high expectations. After all, Pape's coach, Dave Mifsud, has a track record of getting quarterbacks to the college level. He was at Dearborn High School for 16 years before taking the job at Parma Western in 2013.

During his tenure at Parma Western, Mifsud developed Fortress and Ryan Conklin into college prospects. Conklin went to Saginaw Valley State and Fortress, who Pape backed up for two seasons, ended up at Michigan Tech.

"This is the best kid I've ever had," Mifsud said to Karschnia.

Karschnia said one of Pape's most impressive qualities is the switch he possesses to go from a quiet teenager off the field to a true competitor on the field.

McElwain said Pape's leadership traits showed him the quarterback was someone that needed to be in the program.

All about relationships

Besides Central Michigan, Pape's other offers were from Valparaiso (Division I FCS), Western Illinois (FCS) and Findlay (Division II).

His choice, especially with his family ties, wasn't difficult.

More than becoming a Chippewa because it was his most prestigious offer or due to his grandfather, Pape realized his opportunity to learn from offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Charlie Frye, along with McElwain, who is an offensive-minded leader.

"They told me I have a good arm, size and potential to be a great quarterback in college," Pape said. 

Frye was a four-year starter at Akron from 2001-04 before his selection in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. He played in the NFL for the Browns (2005-07), Seattle Seahawks (2007-08) and Oakland Raiders (2009).

The 38-year-old Chippewa coordinator knows what it takes, putting Pape in a perfect position to get there himself.

"He's a great springboard into what Tyler wants to be," Van Dyke said. "He wants that coaching. Charlie Frye is the guy."

Van Dyke, who went undrafted in 2002 but got opportunities with the Seahawks (2002) and New York Giants (2003-04) in the NFL, had the same quarterback mentor as Frye in Trent Dilfer, a Pro Bowl player in 1997 and Super Bowl champion in 2000. 

"We agree on a lot of the same philosophies, and (Frye) gravitated to Tyler very quickly because he trusts my eye too," Van Dyke said. "He prioritized Tyler as a recruit they needed to have."

Competing in a run-pass option, spread offense is a style Pape thinks he can fit into with fluidity. 

He operated in a similar type of system in high school.

More than anything, Pape wants to earn the respect of his coaches and teammates, and he believes everyone coming together will ultimately lead to winning championships.

"I think I can bring a lot to the table, do my part and help win some games," Pape said. "I'm just going to give everything I have to the program."