Detroit — Steve Eipper has experienced his share of success and failure at Central Michigan, and wants nothing more than to end his career with another winning season.
Eipper, a 6-foot-4, 285-pound senior center, made his first start at right tackle in 2016 when Cooper Rush was concluding his career at quarterback for the Chippewas, leading them to a bowl appearance after thrilling wins over Oklahoma State (30-27) and Northern Illinois (34-28, triple overtime).
Then, Eipper started at left guard as a sophomore when Shane Morris took over at quarterback and led CMU to a 8-4 regular season record (6-2 Mid-American Conference) before a bowl loss to Wyoming and Josh Allen, who is now quarterback with the Buffalo Bills.
Last year proved to be a disaster for the Chippewas (1-11) who went winless (0-8) in MAC play for the first time in program history.
CMU had trouble replacing Morris, who had just one year of eligibility after transferring from Michigan.
The Chippewas finished last in scoring (15 points), total offense (254.7), passing (134.5) while throwing a conference-high 18 interceptions.
The terrible season led to the firing of John Bonamego, who had guided CMU to three straight bowl appearances prior to 2018.
Eipper feels CMU has the talent to return to its winning ways.
Former Michigan four-star tackle JaRaymond Hall (Oak Park) will be at left tackle, while former Iowa State three-star guard Oge Udeogu also will be added to the line this season, protecting former Tennessee and Houston four-star quarterback Quinten Dormady.
Jim McElwain, who was Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year at Colorado State (2014) and Southeastern Conference Coach of The Year at Florida (2015), has replaced Bonamego.
McElwain is optimistic about the offensive line. He has high expectations for Dormady and is looking forward to see former 1,000-yard back Jonathan Ward (1,019, 5.7 average in 2017) play after his injury-plagued 2018 season.
Still, it all starts up front with Eipper anchoring the line at center.
“He’s a guy who obviously has been through winning, losing, been through it all,” McElwain said of Eipper. “He’s a guy who really cares about Central Michigan and being a Chippewa. He’s got to be a huge part for us, especially from a leadership standpoint. We need to get better up front obviously, and it’s going to start with him.”
And, McElwain is happy to have Hall, Udeogu and Dormady on board.
“JaRaymond’s been through some injury things, had something actually when he transferred in and came to us,” McElwain said. “He’s been fully cleared and has been having a really good summer. It would be a huge, huge thing for us if he can maintain his health.
“Oge Udeogu is an inside guy, joined us this summer. The team likes him, and he’s a good kid. He wanted an opportunity to play, and we’re going to give him that.”
McElwain feels Dormady will value the ball, which will prevent costly turnovers.
“Quinten Dormady came out of spring as No. 1,” McElwain said. “I’ve known him since he was a high school player in Texas, and obviously we played against him when he was a starter at Tennessee. He’s a guy who knows where the ball should go.
“He understands that sometimes you have to throw it away. You’re not going to hit a home run all the time. At the quarterback position, it’s all about maintaining possession of the ball and he does a great job of that.”
Dormady will have a lot of weapons to work with in Virginia Tech transfer and former Detroit News Dream Team member Kalil Pimpleton, JaCorey Sullivan and Ward.
McElwain said receiver Brandon Childress will be lost for the season, meaning redshirt freshman Tyrone Scott needs to step up. He said Ward will be used in multiple ways, with sophomore Kobe Lewis getting some carries at running back.
CMU was picked to finish last in the West Division in voting by media members in a poll released during MAC Media Day on Tuesday at Ford Field, but Eipper feels the Chippewas can prove them wrong.
“I’m really excited about this year,” Eipper said. “Obviously, last year we didn’t have the year we wanted, but we know how not to do things. This year we have a new staff in, and I think it’s going to be a lot better year.
“We have a lot of guys that are going to have really good years. We have a lot of young guys, but we also have some experience coming back which we haven’t had in a little bit.
“We have a grad transfer from Iowa State in Oge Udeogu who will be solid, Derek Smith (left guard), who plays to the left of me and started last year, then a transfer from Michigan in JaRaymond Hall, and I’m excited to see what he can do for us now that he’s healthy.”
“He comes prepared and ready to play every day," Eipper said. "He’s the first one in the meeting room and last to leaveHe’s more of a pocket passer. He has a good arm and knows where to throw the ball and when to throw it.”
MAC football preview
Wednesday: Eastern Michigan
Thursday: Central Michigan