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2019 Central Michigan football positional previews: Quarterbacks

The QB room has turned over a new leaf, with last year’s opening starter now a tight end and a couple JUCO’s and transfers looking for a second chance.

NCAA Football: Georgia at Tennessee Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

The quarterback position was a bit of a strip-mall carousel for the Chippewas football program in 2018, with an amazing five different players (including a defensive back in Darius Bracy) taking the reins at the QB1 spot for a minimum of a series throughout the season. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much there from any of those options, as the quarterbacks combined for one win in a diasterous campaign.

As a unit, CMU quarterbacks combined for 1,585 passing yards on 175-of-357 attempts (for a paltry 49 percent completion percentage,) nine touchdowns and 18 interceptions between four players with passing statistics. That was good for the 122nd-best passing offense in the NCAA in 2018, just above Rutgers, who had a 5-to-22 TD-to-INT ratio, and all five of the option running teams. Not great!

Let’s cycle through how the QB rotation looked in last season’s ill-fated festivities:

  • Tony Poljan, a six-foot-seven, 265 lb. four-star athlete out of Lansing Catholic HS, started the season as QB1, playing against Kentucky and Kansas, losing both games, throwing one touchdown and four interceptions while struggling to reach a 50 percent completion rating.
  • Poljan was summarily benched for Tommy Lazzaro midway through the first MAC game of the season against Northern Illinois after going 5-of-11 for 30 passing yards in the first half and -6 rushing yards on six attempts. Lazzaro then led a furious comeback effort, as he wound up going 13-of-22 for 128 yards, one touchdown and one interception and tacking on 12 rushes for 55 yards and a touchdown. The Chips lost the game in the closing moments, as they were unable to convert a late offensive drive to tie the game.
  • Lazzaro was officially named the starter in week 4 against FCS opponent Maine, picking up the only win of the season. Lazzaro struggled immensely, going 7-of-16 for 82 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the air and was also the team’s leading rusher... with 14 rushes for 44 yards and a touchdown.
  • There was controversy regarding if another switch would be made, but Lazzaro remained the starter for games against Michigan State and Buffalo, going a paltry 19-of-57 for 270 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions through the air. He led CMU in rushing yards in both the MSU and the Buffalo game, gaining 102 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries in the latter game before getting benched late for Poljan due to performance.
  • Lazzaro remained the QB1 for games against Ball State and Western Michigan, losing both. Lazzaro performed admirably in the BSU game, helping the Chips build a 20-3 lead vs. the Cardinals, but he couldn’t get the offense moving in the second half, as the Cards stole a 24-23 win. The WMU game was less satisfactory, as Lazzaro was once again benched after a 9-of-24, 102 yard and one interception performance.
  • Tony Poljan hopped back into the QB1 slot against Akron, going 19-of-37 for 169 yards in the air and 28 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. That was enough to earn a start against EMU... in which he was summarily benched after going an atrocious 10-of-27 for 39 yards and an interception. He was replaced by Austin Hergott (2-of-5, 22 yards and an INT) late.
  • Hergott was named the starter for the game against BGSU, going 11-of-21 for 94 yards and a touchdown in a loss to Carl Pelini’s debut as interim head football coach for the Falcons. Hergott was again the starter for CMU in the final game of the season against Toledo, but as pattern has dictated by now, the second game was never as good as the first. Hergott went 6-of-19 for 39 yards before being benched for George Pearson... who threw a pick-six on his first pass of his career. Pearson finshed 12-of-24 for 94 yards and a touchdown.

Well, a lot’s changed since that fatal Toledo game.

For one, John Bonamego is no longer the head coach, having been replaced by former Florida head coach Jim McElwain. Tony Poljan, the Week 1 QB, is now a tight end, as is former QB3 Austin Hergott (19-of-45 for 155 yards, one touchdown and one interception.) The Chippewas have also since brought in a JUCO QB, a highly-rated grad transfer QB and a promising true freshman in the latest recruiting class to try and address the problems from last season. So, what exactly are the expectations at quarterback going into 2019?

Quinten Dormady, GR/TR SR (Houston via Tennessee; Boerne, Texas)

  • 2018 (with Houston): 1 game played, 2-of-5 for eight yards, qualified for redshirt as graduate transfer
  • Career between Tennessee and Houston: 102-for-181, 1,290 passing yards, seven touchdowns and six interceptions in 14 games (1 start)

Quinten Dormady was the big fish in Jim McElwain’s first National Signing Day class as Central’s new head coach, snagging the former SEC graduate transfer from Houston after losing out on the QB1 competition there.

Dormady, who stands at six-foot-four, 215 lbs., was a highly-recruited high school QB out of Boerne, Texas, earning a four-star (0.9029 composite) rating from 247Sports, ranking as the fifth-best pro-style QB in the country as a senior. He held offers from Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, Oklahoma State, Vanderbilt, Indiana and TCU before choosing to go to Knoxville. (Coincidentally, Dormady was recruited to Tennessee by two coaches with CMU connections in Butch Jones [2007-2009] and Mike Bajakian [2002-2002, 2007-2009].)

He became Josh Dobbs’ primary backup in 2015 and 2016, before competing for the starting QB job with Jarrett Guarantano. He won the job, notching his first career start vs. Georgia Tech before suffering a season-ending knee injury. After that, he transferred to Houston, which had previously offered him as a recruit. Things didn’t work there either, as he lost to D’Erik King and was relegated to the QB3 role, seeing action in one game as a Cougar due to injury.

As a recruit, Dormady was considered a strong thrower with great pocket presence, totalling nearly 6,000 yards and 59 passing touchdowns in just two years as a varsity starter, earning the Jon Gruden seal of approval during his official visit to Tennessee.

Now, Dormady finds himself in Mt. Pleasant under the tutelege of a fellow former SEC product trying to reclaim their career, and will be the likely favorite to win the QB1 job heading into fall camps. During the spring scrimmage, Dormady led the projected first-team unit, which certainly cements his position as the likeliest option going forward.

David Moore, JUCO JR (Garden City [KS] CC via Memphis; Alpharetta, Georgia)

  • 2018 (with Garden City [KS] CC): 11 games played, 71-of-122 for 837 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions, five touchdowns rushing in 11 starts
  • Career (Memphis): one game played, 7-of-10 for 63 yards and one touchdown

David Moore, much like Dormandy, came to CMU after things didn’t work out at the first stop.

Moore, standing st six-foot-two, 180 lbs., was an unrated prospect coming out of Alpharetta, Georgia, when he signed on at Memphis and faced off with Brady White to try and win the QB1 job, ultimatelty losing out. He transferred at the end of the season and spent his 2018 season at Garden City CC in the notoriously tough Jayhawk Athletic Conference, earning all-conference first-team distinctions as the Broncbusters’ primary starter, posting a 10-1 record.

Now a three-star JUCO signee per 247Sports, Moore projects to be the future of the Chippewas QB room, with two more eligible years. Moore, recruited as a mobile quarterback with a strong arm, certainly has plenty of confidence, as he told Central Michigan Life he intended to win the starting job in camp and keep it for the next two years.

Surprisngly, Moore was buried on the lower half of the depth chart during spring scrimmages, with Dormady, Lazzaro and true freshman Daniel Richardson taking the majority of the first-and-second team reps. Moore will likely be a depth option in 2019, with the potential of being a starter in 2020 with the graduations of Lazzaro and Dormady.

Tommy Lazzaro, JUCO SR (Dodge City CC; Monument, Colorado)

  • 2018/career: seven games played, 68-of-141 for 711 yards, five touchdowns and 10 interceptions; 97 rushes, 383 yards, three touchdowns

Tommy Lazzaro returns to Mt. Pleasant as the most experienced quarterback on the roster and the one most familiar with the personell, so that alone will likely give him some looks at earning the starting quarterback position out of camp. That said, it will be a struggle for him to do so considering McElwain brought in three quarterbacks in the last recruiting cycle.

Lazzaro, who stands at six-foot-three, 217 lbs., was the go-to replacement for the now-converted Tony Poljan whenever the latter struggled, showing a better understanding of the option offense former offensive cordinator Chris Ostrowsky ran. He showed many flashes of potential, leading an attempted comeback rally in his first appearance against NIU and recording multiple team-leading performances in rushing yards.

Alas, his passing numbers were most charitably described as “below average,” as Lazzaro finished with a paltry 48.2 pass completion percentage and a 1:2 TD-to-INT ratio. It was often Lazzaro’s panicked pocket presence that put CMU into a bad place defensively and cost the Chippewas many opportunities down the line.

2019 could be a year of redemption if he could find a more accurate arm and prove his chemistry with current players is a value that other options such as Dormady and Moore can’t offer. He’ll likely get a gentlemen’s battle with Dormady to be named QB1, as he’s the player with the most expereince at the position. However, Lazzaro at best projects as a QB2 with experience.

Daniel Richardson, true freshman (Carol City HS; Miami, Florida)

  • Early enrollee

Richardson emerged from spring camps as a bit of a surprise, picking up third-team reps as a true freshman. Looking at his pedigree, it becomes a bit clearer why that is. A three-star dual-threat quarterback via 247Sports, Richardson held offers from FIU, FAU, Toledo and UAB before choosing CMU on National Signing Day.

It was a bit of a coup for the Chips, as Richardson finished his prep school career as the all-time Dade County leader in passing yards (9,791) and passing touchdowns (116), placing on three-time All-State teams and being named as an All-County QB in all four of his seasons as starter, including his freshman year (2015,) when he led Booker T. Washington HS to the state title.

The only knock against Richardson is his size, as he stands at a decidedly unorthodox five-foot-nine, 195 lbs. But the fact he is already emerging as a name to watch on the depth chart speaks volumes to how much the coaching staff believes he’ll be a key asset in the future, whether it comes sooner or later. For 2019, he’ll likely end up as a QB3 or a redshirt freshman candidate.

Others rostered:

  • George Pearson, RS FR (Mater Dei HS; Matawan, New Jersey): Stands at six-foot-one-215 lbs. A three-star prospect by 247Sports as a pro-style QB from Matawan, New Jersey. Held offers from Purdue, Temple and Purdue before signing with CMU. At Mater Dei HS, made two Non-Public School Group II title games, winning once in 2016. Had one appearance for CMU in 2018, but kept redshirt due to new eligibility rules.
  • Ben Maleszyk, SO (Cousino HS; Warren, Michigan): Stands at six-foot-three, 198 lbs. A walk-on who placed on the team after an open try-out. Over three-year career at Cousino HS, Maleszyk went 247-for-390 passing, with 4,028 yards, 32 touchdowns and 16 interceptions; also collected 465 yards on 112 carries for 12 rushing touchdowns, per MaxPreps.