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Football: McHenry East grad Robert Tonyan 'living in the moment' during 1st NFL season

McHenry East grad finishing 1st season as Packers tight end

Green Bay Packers tight end Robert Tonyan (85) warms up prior to Sunday's game against the Bears at Soldier Field in Chicago on Dec. 16, 2018.
Joe Lewnard/

CHICAGO – It didn’t take long for McHenry native Robert Tonyan to hear his name on the speakers at Soldier Field.

Tonyan, a 2012 McHenry East graduate and a tight end on the Green Bay Packers, made the tackle on the opening kickoff of Sunday’s game against the Bears.

Although he wasn’t targeted at all by Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Tonyan lined up on offense during a few key fourth-quarter plays. The Packers’ comeback effort fell short in a 24-17 loss to the Bears.

Now with 14 NFL games under his belt, Tonyan is no stranger to this stage. Still, playing in front of friends and family at Soldier Field is a dream come true. Tonyan remembers coming to games at Soldier Field as a kid.

“I always wanted to be out here,” Tonyan said. “I didn’t want to be up there [in the stands] forever. Right now, I’m just living in the moment, absorbing every stadium I go to, every game. Don’t take it for granted, be myself out there and just play football.”

Tonyan went undrafted out of FCS Indiana State in 2017 before signing with the Detroit Lions as an undrafted free agent.

He didn’t make it past training camp with the Lions in 2017. He signed a futures contract with the Packers in January and made the 53-man roster as a fourth tight end. Tonyan has benefited from having three experienced tight ends ahead of him in Jimmy Graham (nine years), Lance Kendricks (eight years) and Marcedes Lewis (13 years).

“He wants to learn,” Lewis said. “[He] asks a bunch of questions, which is really good. That’s how it was when I first came into the league. A lot of potential. He can run, he’s natural catching the ball and he’s a willing blocker. As long as [he does] that, then he has a bright future.”

Tonyan can’t say enough about what those three veterans have meant to him and his progression as a player.

“What’s good is that I don’t have to pick and choose to model my game after anyone,” Tonyan said. “I’ve got three diverse players. Lance the utility guy, used all over. Jimmy is a pass-game threat. Marcedes with blocking. Three of the best to do it. I’m learning under them, and I’m going to continue to grow.”

Tonyan has two catches this season, including a 54-yard touchdown catch from Rodgers during a Thursday night matchup against the Seattle Seahawks last month.

He has had plenty of support from his hometown, too. His parents, Tammy and Bob Tonyan, were at the game Sunday, along with other friends and family, and have attended every Packers home game and many of the road games within driving distance.

“I don’t think it really has hit my husband or myself,” Tammy Tonyan said. “When we watch, it’s just like, ‘Wow, he’s on an NFL team and the Green Bay Packers.’ I guess it just hasn’t hit home yet. We’re still waiting for that moment.”

The Tonyans don’t tailgate much. They prefer to enter the stadium as early as possible to watch their son warm up on the field.

Robert Tonyan is thankful for the support from home, both from his family and from the McHenry athletics community.

“I get flooded with the texts, social media, stuff like that,” Robert Tonyan said. “I don’t get to all of them. It’s unfortunate that I don’t get to all of them because I don’t want to leave anyone out. I’m just happy that I’ve got the support back in McHenry, and I want to say that I love all my friends and family back in McHenry and I appreciate what they’re doing. They keep me going.”