ELLENSBURG – Had he followed his high school inclinations, Mike Reilly would probably have an engineering degree and be employed by now. Even on a second path at a second school, he’d be done with college.
Neither would have been as fun, or potentially as rewarding, for one of the top small-school quarterbacks in the country.
“Yes, I want to play in the NFL” said Reilly, about to enter his final season at Division II Central Washington. “That’s what I’ve always dreamt about doing. I can’t picture myself doing anything else. I can’t imagine working a real job. I’d rather play the game and get paid to do it. … If for whatever reason it didn’t work out, I still would be very pleased to have come here.”
About to begin his senior season, Reilly is staring down many possible accomplishments that could trump former Wildcats star and current Detroit Lions quarterback Jon Kitna in school lore.
First is the talent of CWU, which has been ranked as high as No. 5 in some preseason publications, and appeared to get stronger recently when former Washington high school player of the year J.R. Hasty joined the roster.
Second is the likelihood that by the end of his senior season, Reilly will own the majority of the Wildcats’ QB records, including a chance at Kitna’s seemingly unobtainable record of 12,353 career yards passing. Reilly enters the season with 8,742 yards passing, and his 81 career passing touchdowns are 18 shy of Kitna’s 99.
Last is a strong chance that Reilly, or teammate Jared Bronson, a tight end, could become the first Wildcats selected in the NFL draft since the draft was trimmed to seven rounds in 1994.
“You’ve got to have a break,” he said of his NFL prospects. “You’ve got to have a team that needs your style of play, and you have to go out and perform. I use it to excite myself and go out and work harder.”
It wasn’t a simple path that landed Reilly in this farming town. He attended three schools in two states, a path of promises unfulfilled and records redefined.
He was supposed to be an engineering major at Montana Tech, playing a little quarterback while earning an engineering degree. But Montana Tech was an NAIA school, and when a chance to play at Division I Washington State developed during his senior year in high school, Reilly left engineering behind.
He found Washington State frustrating, however. He dazzled during scrimmages and practices but could never break into consideration as the Cougars’ future signal caller.
When he realized he would at best be a No. 3 quarterback, Reilly gave up his roster spot and started looking for a third home. CWU offered Reilly a chance to start from day one.
Reilly will have his third coach at Central in four years – Blaine Bennett, who tutored Chicago Bears starter Kyle Orton at Purdue during five seasons as the Boilermakers’ quarterbacks coach. Bennett, a 1987 Whitworth graduate, is bringing a new offensive style that should showcase Reilly’s versatility.
“I do think he’ll excel in the system we try and put together for him, and I think he has the ability to perform at a high level,” Bennett said. “I think he’ll be really good.”
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