Virginia Football is in the middle of camp, hoping to get the 2020 season underway next month as the coronavirus pandemic rages on (and despite not having a season opener at the moment). The Cavaliers added a huge piece to the tight end room back on July 17th when they welcomed in Central Michigan transfer Tony Poljan. We reached out to James Jimenez of Hustle Belt to get the lowdown on the new big man from those that know him best.
Let’s get to it!
Streaking the Lawn: Poljan’s numbers are impressive, but what stands out to you about him that his numbers might not show?
James Jimenez: His blocking, 100 percent. Poljan’s impact was especially noticeable on run plays, where his prototypical frame really helped him gain leverage on defenders. He’s a nasty in-line blocker, with the versatility to run out and catch passes to boot. There’s a reason he was initially recruited by Big Ten programs as a tight end; his physicality has translated extremely well to the position since he started the transition from QB back in 2018.
In fact, I’d say that his blocking is the reason he’s such a highly-touted senior draft prospect.
STL: Bronco Mendenhall has called Poljan an immediate fit with the culture and team at Virginia. What makes him a good compliment to the Cavaliers?
JJ: Poljan is an ultimate team player. Initially recruited to CMU with the promise to be a starting quarterback within two years, he was willing to give up the QB1 role and take reps at receiver after showing he wasn’t D-I material at the position. He played the 2018 season between three positions (QB, WR, TE) in the worst season in program history, put on weight to be the feature tight end for the 2019 season, and eventually picked up first-team all-MAC accolades en route to a MAC West divisional title.
He was able to do that working under two entirely different coaching staffs to boot between Jon Bonamego (now the Los Angeles Rams special teams coach) and Jim McElwain, and should be able to figure out how to mesh with Mendenhall quickly.
STL: What’s something Virginia fans should know about Poljan?
JJ: Poljan was Michigan’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2015, and it’s no surprise. He was a three-sport athlete at Lansing Catholic in football, basketball and track and field, earning 11 varsity letters. Two of his brothers played D-II/III football, and at least one sister is on a volleyball scholarship.
Coincidentally, Poljan replaced Cooper Rush, one of CMU’s best QBs in program history, not once, but twice. Rush, currently with the New York Giants, was an alum of Lansing Catholic in 2012. Poljan took over the spot two years later in 2014. Rush graduated from CMU in 2016, with Poljan coming to campus that offseason. After a year with Michigan transfer Shane Morris at the helm, Poljan would indeed take over in the ill-fated 2018 season.
STL: He can’t be absolutely perfect, so what are some areas he could improve upon?
JJ: A lot of Poljan’s receptions and yards really came on wide-open looks that were cooked into the playbook. The wheel route was especially productive in the McElwain-made offense. For Poljan to improve, he’ll need to be better at catching in traffic and creating separation in the open field. That’s not to say he can’t learn how. It’s just a nuance of the position which will surely come with more reps, seeing as he spent two-and-a-half seasons being groomed as a dual-threat QB.
STL: Are you now a huge UVA fan?
JJ: I find it hard to cheer for Power Five football teams on principle, but whenever a former CMU player transfers to try and get a better shot at playing, I can’t help but wish them well. Mike Danna was productive at Michigan last season in a rotational role, and Julian Hicks found his way onto the starting roster at Akron after feeling buried in a logjam at CMU. I’ll certainly be wishing Tony the best, and if a season does end up being played, I could be talked into watching a game or two of Cavs football.
Huge thanks to James and Hustle Belt for chatting! Here’s to hoping we see Poljan in action this fall.