McHenry football coach Jon Niemic normally encourages his players to get to sleep at a decent hour before their 6:30 weight lifting sessions the next morning.
Monday, however, was not a normal night.
“We’re always preaching about getting a good night’s rest, but last night was an exception to the rule, to let them stay up and watch a community guy go out and tear it up on Monday Night Football,” Niemic said. “It was cool to come in this morning.”
One of the first orders of business for the Warriors was sending a video to Green Bay tight end Robert Tonyan, a 2012 McHenry East graduate, who caught three touchdown passes Monday night in the Packers’ 30-16 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
Tonyan had one touchdown catch in each of his previous two games before he blew up in front of a national TV audience.
The Warriors gathered in their weight room, all wearing masks, while defensive back Logan Lucas said, “Hey, Robert, this is McHenry football. Congratulations on those three touchdowns last night on Monday Night Football.” The rest of the McHenry players cheered.
Tonyan spoke with McHenry’s players between his stint with the Detroit Lions in 2017 and becoming a Packer late that season. After two years as a backup and a key special teams contributor, Tonyan (6-foot-5, 237 pounds) is making the most of his opportunity as a starter.
Tonyan is tied for the NFL lead in touchdown receptions (five) with Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans. He and Evans are tied for fourth in the NFL in total touchdowns, behind New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara (seven), Green Bay’s Aaron Jones and Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook (both with six).
“It’s nice to get the opportunities,” Tonyan said during Monday’s postgame Zoom news conference. “I’m definitely an improved player from last year. I just wanted to continue to do what I’ve been doing, play well and stick to the game plan. When the plays come to me, I just have to make them.”
Tonyan played quarterback at McHenry and was recruited for that position for the Indiana State Sycamores. But when quarterback Mike Perish transferred in from Western Michigan, the coaches had a life-changing plan for Tonyan, who switched to wide receiver.
Tonyan’s speed and leaping ability made him ideal for the position. He ranks No. 2 on Indiana State’s career reception list (150), first on the career touchdown receiving list (20) and third on the receiving yardage list (2,047).
“It’s weird how things turned out,” said Rob Niemic, a former McHenry boys basketball assistant coach who now is girls head coach. “I was talking to him (after the position change) and thought he lost his job. He became their primary target. It’s just weird how fate works out for people. It was a blessing in disguise.”
Chris Leathers trained Tonyan in the offseason at his gym, Your World Fitness in Spring Grove, for three summers. Leathers also had NFL players C.J. Fiedorowicz (Johnsburg) and Mike Liedtke (Woodstock) working out in the group. Leathers, who now trains at FitNation in Gurnee, thought Tonyan’s athleticism could help him make it in the NFL.
“There was a (two-on-two) basketball game we played, me and Rob against C.J. and (Johnsburg athletic director) Ted Juske,” Leathers said. “Rob and I ended up beating them in best-of-seven and after the game, C.J. looked at Rob and said, ‘Rob, I had no idea you were this good of an athlete.’ I looked at C.J. and said, ‘I told you the boy is athletic.’ ”
One of Rob Niemic’s favorite stories comes from the 2012 Class 4A Cary-Grove Boys Basketball Regional. Tonyan spun into the lane and threw down a thunderous dunk, finishing by hanging on the rim as to not kick a South player. He received a technical foul.
“At first, everybody got mad about it, and [coach Tim Paddock and I] were like, ‘No, no, no, this’ll juice him up even more,’ ” Rob Niemic said. “He played amazing down the stretch and we ended up winning the regional.
“The biggest thing I remember about him is he is one of the most competitive dudes I ever coached. That always impressed me. It didn’t matter what it was, he didn’t want to lose.”
Tonyan worked out with San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle the past two offseasons in Nashville. 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard joined them this past offseason for workouts.
“Just getting around a guy like that, who is the No. 1 tight end (in the NFL), you learn,” Leathers said.
Robert Sr. and Tammy Tonyan watch proudly, unfortunately from a distance because of the COVID-19 pandemic, as their son’s career flourishes.
As Tonyan sat down for the postgame interview, he needed a couple seconds before taking a question.
“I have to text my mom back,” he said. “She’s the first person I text back. My mom … love my mom. She’s awesome. She’s an incredible woman. She said how proud she is that I’m her son. She’s done a lot for me over the years, whether it was sending highlight tape or emailing college coaches all over. She’s the most supportive woman ever.”