LAKE FOREST – The tight end is not going to be alone when he takes the field for the Bears in 2023.
Robert Tonyan, a native of McHenry, will be joining four others on the team who are natives of the Chicago area: Linebacker T.J. Edwards (Lake Villa), tight end Cole Kmet (Lake Barrington), offensive lineman Doug Kramer Jr. (Hinsdale), and linebacker Jack Sanborn (Lake Zurich).
He’s returned home after spending the first six seasons of his career with the rival Green Bay Packers, where Tonyan established himself as a solid pass catching tight end in the National Football League.
“I’m just honestly just grateful and blessed for the opportunity to come back here,” said Tonyan of playing for the hometown Bears, which he’ll do after signing a one-year free agent deal in March. “Just being close to home and just getting a chance to prove my game and my brand of football.
“The family and friends are definitely super-hyped that I’m back playing for this side of the rivalry. That’s for sure.”
But is that pressure for the tight end, who admitted to growing up rooting for the Bears and admiring Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher?
“Nah. Pressure’s good. Pressure is good,” said Tonyan when asked that question.
The opportunity to play for his hometown team is the next step in a journey that began as a quarterback at McHenry East High School and then initially at Indiana State. Switched to wide receiver midway through his career with the Sycamores, he went undrafted and was signed initially by the Lions as a free agent in 2017.
Cut by Detroit, Tonyan joined the Packers late that season as a member of the practice squad then cracked into the lineup in 2018. In 68 career games with Green Bay, the tight end had 137 catches for 1,437 yards and 17 touchdowns, as he made a career-high 53 receptions in 2022 after returning from an ACL tear.
Now Tonyan starts the newest chapter of his career on a one-year deal with a team he always imagined joining.
“My dream has always been to play in the NFL. I had no idea where I was going to be. I didn’t know how I was going to get there, but I just knew I was going to be in the NFL,” said Tonyan. “Wherever that journey took me or whatever I had to do to get there, changing from quarterback to receiver now a tight end. Just playing football is my dream, my life, I love it.
“It does so much for my friends, family. Just given opportunities across the board to live a great life and a blessed life. Did I think I’d be tight end for the Bears? No, but did I think I’d play for the Bears? Yeah, absolutely. In my brain, I was playing for the Bears my whole life. I’m just super-pumped to be here.”
Tonyan will come in with experience with Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, who worked with him in Green Bay from 2019 through 2021. He’ll do so with fellow Chicago area native Kmet, who is entering his fourth season in the NFL after the Bears drafted him in 2020.
Together, they’ll try to build a new era of the Bears that began with the hiring of general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus a year ago.
“It’s one of the most prized organizations in the NFL, and when you have a hometown team and you’re a fan of them growing up, you take a little more pride in that and take it more to heart,” said Tonyan when asked about playing with a few others from the Chicago area.