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Virginia tight ends ready for bigger role this season

Transfer Tony Poljan and second year Grant Misch ready to contribute.

Tony Poljan lines up at practice on August 27, 2020.
Virginia Media Relations

The 2020 Virginia Football season is schedule to kick off on September 19 as the Hoos take a trip to Blacksburg to face Virginia Tech in the season opener. A huge piece of the Virginia offense this season will be the tight ends, and some young and new faces are ready to step up.

The Cavaliers lost Tanner Cowley to graduation after the 2019 season, a player who hauled in 28 passes for 311 yards (11.1 yards per reception) and scored one touchdown last year. Redshirt second year Grant Misch returns after pulling in one reception — the first for his career — on a six-yard touchdown play at North Carolina (which you can see at the 3:12 mark below).

Virginia will have a new weapon at their disposal this season in 6-7, 265 pound Tony Poljan, a transfer from Central Michigan. Despite only being in the program for five weeks, he’s already making a big impact. Misch and his teammates have helped Poljan get accustomed to his new home, saying “We bonded pretty quickly with him [Poljan] coming at the beginning of camp, so we started doing hard things right away — that is how you bond with someone the quickest.”

Poljan, who was named Second-Team All-MAC in 2019 after a season with 33 receptions for 496 yards and four touchdowns, brings experience and immense football knowledge to the team. In 2019, Cowley and Misch — the only two tight ends who recorded a catch for the Cavaliers — combined for 31 receptions, 317 yards, and two touchdowns.

“Tony has skill set that he can do it all as far as blocking run routes,” Special Teams and Tight Ends Coach Ricky Brumfield said of the newcomer. “I think his greatest attribute is football knowledge. Playing quarterback at Central Michigan, he kind of understands defense and when our defense will do different blitzes and stunts and coverages and different things like that. So he does a pretty good job picking it up, and that’s why he does a great job knowing the offense right now.”

The Hoos were excited about the opportunity to add Poljan to the TE room, pouncing right away when he entered the transfer portal. “Immediately we went after him, because we knew our depth at the tight end position,” Brumfield explained. “We knew we had Grant Misch, who was doing a phenomenal job as well, but we knew we needed another big body guy to help us out offensively...as soon as he [Poljan] went in the portal, we went on attack.”

Beyond his size, Brumfield and the coaching staff were impressed at Poljan’s performance against the likes of Wisconsin and Miami. “He played against some of the guys that we played against, and he dominated doing it,” Brumfield said of Poljan’s game against the Hurricanes. “So, you know, that was what impressed me: blocking in an open field and then blocking the defensive ends.”

That blocking will be crucial for the Cavaliers this season. As reported last Friday, Virginia will have just two scholarship running backs available this season in Wayne Taulapapa and Towson grad transfer Shane Simpson. There’s still a chance Ronnie Walker Jr.’s waiver gets approved, but Bronco Mendenhall and the Hoos are still waiting to hear back on the appeal. The offensive line is the healthiest and most experienced that Mendenhall has had in his time in Charlottesville, and having an extra blocker in Poljan can only help create openings for the RBs.

When considering the receiving game, having trustworthy targets like Poljan and Misch will be a huge benefit for the newly named QB 1, Brennan Armstrong. Virginia lost dynamic receivers in Joe Reed and Hasise Dubois after last season, but bring back Terrell Jana to lead the receiving corps.

Now, Brumfield and the Hoos have turned all of their energy to the season-opener against the Hokies. “Oh we’re ready to roll,” Brumfield stated enthusiastically. “You know, for us, it’s better. We get to focus all of our attention on that game. Typically, it’s always at the end of the year, and we want to beat Tech. It’s always in our mind.”

Stay tuned for more updates as we get closer to the start of the 2020 season.