Football Kicks It Off At MAC Media Day – Central Michigan University Chippewas

DETROIT, Mich. – Ready for some football?
 
Jim McElwain and the Central Michigan Chippewas certainly are. The 2021 season unofficially kicked off on Tuesday with the Mid-American Conference Media Day at Ford Field, which in December will be the site of the league title game.
 
The Chippewas went 3-3 in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, and they return a talented and solid core of veterans in the likes of defensive end Troy Hairston II and wide receiver/punt returner Kalil Pimpleton, both of whom represented CMU at Tuesday’s media day.
 
CMU won the MAC West in 2019, McElwain’s first season at the helm of the program.
 
“I think we’ve got great pieces on our team; I think our parts are fantastic,” McElwain said. “I think we have some really, really talented guys. Now we’ve got to bring those parts and make it a whole.”
 
Hairston, who was the co-MAC Defensive Player of the Year last season, is the headliner of a defense that includes mainstays Troy Brown – a two-time All-MAC First Team linebacker – safety Devonni Reed, and middle linebacker George Douglas.
 
Pimpleton is among the most dazzling players in the MAC and is a threat to go the distance any time he touches the ball. He is part of an offense that includes the one-two running back punch of Kobe Lewis and Lew Nichols III, the latter of whom was named the MAC Freshman of the Year in 2020.
 
The Chippewas were picked fourth in the preseason media poll.
 
“We’re picked fourth; well, we should be,” McElwain said, referring to the 2020 season when CMU lost to all three of the schools – Ball State, Western Michigan and Toledo – that were picked ahead of it in the poll. “We got our tails kicked by Ball State, we got our tails beat by Western, we got our tails beat by Toledo.
 
“That was a pretty easy pick. Everybody’s back, everybody’s got their same team; for us it’s really got to be the development of our young players that’s got to push us over the top.”
 
Also back is quarterback Daniel Richardson, who started four games in 2020 and completed 63.9 percent of his passes. An injury cut his season short. The others on the roster competing for the position are Jacob Sirmon, a sophomore transfer from Washington, and Tyler Pape, a freshman who played at Parma Western High School.
 
Hairston’s Journey
Hairston, a senior from Birmingham, led the MAC with 5 ½ sacks among 12 tackles-for-loss in 2020, earning the co-MAC Defensive Player of the Year Award and a spot on the all-conference first team. He ranked fourth on the team with 41 tackles while forcing one fumble and recovering one. He and Brown were among the 90 players nationally who were named to the Bednarik Award Watch List on Monday. The award goes annually to the defensive player of the year in college football.
 
CMU is one of 11 schools with two candidates on the watch list. Brown and Hairston are two of five players from Mid-American Conference schools on the list.
 
Hairston came to CMU as a preferred walk-on and earned a scholarship before the 2019 season. His journey from that beginning to MAC Player of the Year is nothing short of remarkable.
 
“A lot of time, effort, a lot of older dudes kind of taking you under their wing,” Hairston said in explaining his journey. “(Former Chippewa defensive end) Joey Ostman worked with me a lot and was one of the people who really believed in me, and he really worked with me during the quarantine, and I got to know him on a deeper level.”
 
Hairston announced his arrival as a force on the defensive side of the ball with a three-sack performance in a 30-27 victory over Ohio in the 2020 season opener.
 
“The day that I knew that a lot of the hard work had paid off – and it’s not done yet – it was the first game against Ohio,” he said. “All I could do was sit there and cry because I went through a lot of stuff, a lot of hardships and not a lot of people believed in me like I believed in myself.”
 
“I have a lot of teammates who, if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have made the plays I made last year.”
 
The Schedule
The Chippewas are scheduled to open the season on Sept. 4 at Missouri and are slated to entertain Robert Morris in their home opener on Sept. 11. CMU is then set to go to LSU on Sept. 18 and opens the MAC slate at Miami (Ohio) on Oct. 2.
 
The trips to Missouri and LSU give CMU two dates in a span of two weeks against Southeastern Conference schools. The Chippewas did not play any non-conference games in 2020; in 2019, they went to Wisconsin (Big Ten) and Miami (Fla.) (ACC). The Chippewas’ last game against an SEC opponent came on Sept. 1, 2018, when they opened the season with a 35-20 loss at Kentucky.
 
“For our university, our people and more importantly our players, it gives us opportunities to go and play against the best conference in the country year in and year out,” McElwain said. “I look at it as an opportunity for us to put Central Michigan on the national stage.”
 
 

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