The Central Michigan football team is fresh off a season for the ages. The Chippewas finished 12-2, defeated in-state Big Ten program Michigan State, cracked the Associated Press Top 25 and finished the season with a thrilling GMAC Bowl win over the Troy Trojans. With quarterback Dan LeFevour, wide receivers Antonio Brown and Bryan Anderson, and defensive stalwarts such as defensive end Frank Zombo and corner [/db]Josh Gordy[/db], all departing for the NFL, CMU will have their hands full replicating last seasons record. Making the road even tougher is the addition of a new head coach in Dan Enos, as he replaces Butch Jones (Cincinnati).
But what many pundits have overlooked is the Chippewas young roster last season. CMU boasted only 13 seniors and they have a wealth of talent and experience returning. Today, we look at the top ten returning players for Central Michigan.
1) Senior linebacker Nick Bellore, 6-foot-1 and 241 pounds -While he not be a household name around the country yet, Bellore is certainly a name every opponent remembers. Just take a look back to the Arizona game last season and it becomes apparent that Bellore is one of the top linebackers in the country. He has started every game since arriving as a freshman and has tallied 100+ tackles in three straight seasons. He is a two time All-MAC first team selection, a team captain, and barring an injury, will walk out of Mount Pleasant as the Chippewas career leader in tackles.
2) Senior guard Jeff Maddux, 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds -Maddux has started 34 games the past three years and been interchangeable at either left or right guard. He is arguably a very experienced units best player, and when the Chippewas needed a yard last season, it usually came directly behind the "Mauler from Monroe".
3) Senior linebacker Matt Berning, 6-foot and 232 pounds -While Bellore may supply the leadership of the defense, it's no argument who supplied the energy. Berning, a native of Duisberg, Germany, had a coming out party last season in his first stint as a full time starter. He would finish the season second on the team in tackles with 108, and added 8.5 TFL and 2 sacks. Berning is a tackling machine who also displays tremendous versatility as an edge rusher.
4) Senior wide receiver Kito Poblah, 6-foot-2, 210 pounds -Like Berning, Poblah had a breakout season last year as he caught 53 passes for 681 yards and 4 touchdowns. He is a big, physical wide receiver who also has 4.5 speed and rarely is taken down by one tackler. With Brown and Anderson in the NFL now, Poblah will be the #1 guy this season and he has NFL type talent himself.
5) Senior defensive tackle Sean Murnane, 6-foot-1, 270 pounds -The undersized Murnane has been a two year starter for the Chippewas during his career and earned third team All-MAC in both of those years. Last season he was a major cog in a stifling defense and tallied 49 tackles, 2 TFL and 2 sacks. Even more impressive, he added 6 passes defended as a defensive tackle.
6) Senior center Colin Miller, 6-foot-3 and 295 pounds -Miller is another veteran player on the Chippewas roster who has seen time in the starting lineup since a freshman. Over three years, Miller has started 31 games in his career at either center or guard, although he is firmly entrenched as the teams starting center now.
7) Junior safety Dannie Bolden, 5-foot-11 and 197 pounds -Bolden's first year as a starter was last season, and he was a big reason the Chippewas pass defense made huge strides. He tallied 56 tackles and 2 interceptions as he started all 14 games. He's a player who can deliver big hits and also make a play on the ball.
8) Sophomore tackle Jake Olson, 6-foot-8 and 290 pounds -Olson faced a lot of questions heading into his first season as a starter at left tackle, and by the end of the year, he answered them and more. He was named a Freshman All-American by numerous media outlets and became one of the MAC's top blindside protectors. As he continues to add weight and experience, Olson will become one of the top lineman in the MAC.
9) Junior tight end David Blackburn, 6-foot-3 and 238 pounds -If the spring practice and the 2010 CMU Spring Game were any indication, Blackburn is poised for a big year. Under utilized in the previous offense, Blackburn caught only 12 passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns last season despite starting in all 14 games. Under the new scheme, he will see plenty more passes and have a chance to become a major target for quarterback Ryan Radcliff. While he is a receiving threat, Blackburn also excels as a blocker and he is the definition of a complete tight end.
10) Sophomore defensive back Jahleel Addae, 5-foot-9 and 193 pounds -While he has yet to start a single game in his career, Addae may appearances in all 14 games last season as he made the transition from wide receiver to defensive back. He played both corner and safety, and still flipped between the two positions during the spring. But it didn't matter where he was playing, it was obvious that Addae has settled in on defense and is primed to become a playmaker. He has speed and sound tackling ability, but more important, a mean streak and the ability to make wide receivers think twice about crossing the middle.