The secret of steel has always carried with it a mystery. You must learn its riddle, Conan. You must learn its discipline. For no one - no one in this world can you trust. Not men, not women, not beasts. [Points to sword]. This you can trust.
-Conan’s Father, Conan the Barbarian
I loves me some prognosticationatin. Sure, Its imperfect and makes you look like a daggum moran when you’re wrong which is the majority of the time. Even when you’re right, folks will just ask you to do it again, and then again before they even consider listening to you next time. Heads: you’re wrong; Tails: you’re lucky. And its nowhere near a fair coin. Bloody infidels. You’re left with the choice of making peace with being considered either a fool or a crackpot. Its almost all downside. The prudent thing to do is just wait for things to play out and slap hands when things go well.
Maybe so, left brain, maybe so… But [screw] that. This is the internet for Pete’s sake. If you cant be wrong here, then what is it good for??? And everyone thinks we’re a crackpot already. Oh noes, another jerk I’ve never met thinks I’m an idiot. Woe is us. I pray my fragile psyche will some day recover from the indignation that is internet shame.
Aren’t we here to have fun? Isn’t it more fun to invest internet cache in a prophecy and see if you’re right. Its a simple social contract pick a side and to victors go the spoils of watching the losers eat crow. Even those who aren’t as in-your-face about it all…they know. They know they were right and the others were wrong. There is nothing sweeter than being able to say “I told you so” even when you choose not to say it. Its about that which is best in life: to crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their bloggers. Indeed.
Last week my man Ron Utah had the onions to put out a diary that set the stage for Devin Gardner to the best QB in history next season. Damn near guaranteed it. Relax Ronnie; I keed, I keed. Devin put up a 160 passer rating against solid competition over a 5 game stretch. I think its safe to assume he could up good or better performances against Air Force, UMass, Purdue, and Illinois. Five games of data isn’t exactly nothing but it’s not a whole lot either.
This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Prior to the 2010 season I spent a lot of time studying Quarterback statistics and progression in an effort to get some insight into what would be reasonable and maybe not so reasonable to expect to see that coming season. Over the course of those writings I made a bunch of prognostications on various QBs relevant to Michigan that year. I’ll suppress the desire to assess each statement player by player in this space but I’m pretty proud of those pretty specific predictions. I was wrong about Ricky Stanzi, but I claim everyone else as a prediction of reasonable to uncanny accuracy or uncallable. I’m claiming a 10 right, 1 wrong, and 5 no calls. Word. /appeal for authority
White Rainbow Reprised
Anyway, I’ll get back to Devin in a minute but I need to lay some groundwork down first. Gots to hit ‘em with a…
Chart. Actually, four charts. These are the components of Passer Rating. The data is compiled from 951 QB seasons from 2003 to 2012. The point is to show the relationship between each factor and the overall rating. The interception rate chart is interesting because the slope hooks up when you start dropping below 100. That makes sense because sometimes when you suck, you really really suck and your foes all go hyuk ‘cause they hate you…or something like that. Just remember to switch lines down there.
The the high quality fits present here are no surprise: passer rating is a linear mathematical equation. But, these fits are useful because we can use them to evaluate how “legitimate” a given player’s performance was. For example, Denard Robinson’s 2010 Passer Rating was 149. Typical components for that rating are shown in the second line of the table below, his actual values are shown in the first line. Denard’s Completion percentage was inline with his final rating but everything else was either slightly out of whack (TD%) or WAAAY out of whack (YPA, INT%).
|Denard Robinson 2010||Cmp %||YPA||TD%||INT%|
|Single Factor Rating||146.09||160.00||141.72||105.37|
A reasonable cynic would say: so what; it counts. Indeed and we should make no apologies. But understanding these gaps helps us understand if there are any areas of improvement or if a guy is overly dependant on big plays and such. This was exactly the case with Denard in 2010. Remember all those “Oh, wide open” seam throws he made to Roundtree that year? Those big plays were generated by the offensive scheme and the threat he posed as a runner, not by the threat he posed as a passer. So, when the scheme went away, so did his performance. When an opponent was able to neuter his running threat, the offense sputtered. Capice?
What’s Your Rainbow Got To Do With Me?
Finally we get to Devin. Devin posted an overall passer rating of 161.7 in the 5 games he played QB in last year. His stats illustrate the “White Rainbow” Effect of the Passer Rating formula beautifully. None of the components were typical of that passer rating, the great cancels out the terrible and we end up with a number that doesn’t quite mean anything in and of itself.
|Devin Gardner 2012||Cmp %||YPA||TD%||INT%|
|Single Factor Rating||132.84||176.28||176.97||98.33|
Devin’s completion percentage was fine, but nothing special really. His INT rate was flat out terrible, better than Denard’s but that's not saying a whole lot. This isn't a surprise given the fact the Devin had never seen significant PT at QB and then spent spring, summer, and damn near two thirds of the season practicing at WR. Those numbers are inline with reasonable expectations given his circumstances. Actually, he probably out performed reasonable expectations given those circumstances and the inferable information that comes along with a position switch.
On the other hand the TD rate and YPA numbers are both ridiculous. In fact, they’re so ridiculous that given the context of the other two components, they reek of unrepeatability. AhOOOOga! Dive! Dive! Dive! [Everything starts shaking.] WHAT THE [HECK] IS HAPPENING!?!?
Relax, that’s just the mean reversion alarm. I’m reprising a chart I’ve previously discussed in this space which shows the mean reversion effect in a forecast able format. This chart suggests that we should look for Devin to register a legit 145 in passer rating next year. Uh, that’s a damn fine rating, folks. Here’s a stat line about your QB that you just might like:
|Devin Gardner, 2013||360||225||2900||23||10|
Sure, that’s not the 3600 yds and 33 TDs Ronnie promised but its not 15 INTs either. That level of performance is typical of a seasoned veteran QB and given Devin’s performance last season it’s totally reasonable to expect him to perform at this level. If he were to underperform that expectation the world would not end but I’d be disappointed. If he over performs then gravy. This is the reasonable and prudent outlook for Devin Gardner’s performance for this coming season.
Reasonable. Prudent. Pfft, those words suck. They aren’t sexy at all. They aren’t fun. They’re words Brady Hoke would use to describe Notre Dame. A seasoned veteran QB will do in a pinch but I want to plan on hearing the lamentations of all of those that oppose us. No, to lay those plans we need a monster. We need an expectation that we’ll have a performer at QB that will dominate. We need what Ron Utah has promised us. Surely there must be a way to construct a plausible expectation for domination given the data available. Indeed, but we need some abstract thinking. Shamalong to the right side of knowledge.
What if those numbers for YPA and TD rate weren’t an accident and are actually evidence of elite playmaking ability. Numbers like those are characteristic of system, support, or flat out skillz; usually a combination of the three.
System: We’ve seen what system can do for a player. We need look no further than Denard Robinson. In RichRod’s system Denard rated out at about 150, in a more typical system he rated out 20 points lower. In Devin’s case, he’ll be playing in a familiar system with more time to learn and refine his understanding. Borges will be able to game plan around a playing style he’s more experienced with and I see no threat to Devin’s performance being affected because of system factors next year.
Support: A quarterback can benefit from the players around him. I submit freshman Chad Henne. Having Braylon Edwards to throw to and Mike Hart around certainly helped his numbers. That O-line wasn’t too shabby either. So the question is: did Devin’s numbers get a boost from the players around him that will suddenly not be there anymore? The receiving corps returns mostly intact and as much as I enjoyed Roy Roundtree as a player, I don't think he was a transcendent talent that cant be replaced by Chesson and/or Darboh. Who is to say that they wont be better?
As to support from the running game, again I don't think there was anything there that made opposing defenses think twice. Michigan was aiight running the ball last season. Fitz’s production seemed to pick up when Devin stepped in for Denard but then he got injured so its tough to say if that's a trend or not. Here again, support from the running game should at the very least stay where it was and maybe it picks up a bit.
Finally, the offensive line. Michigan loses some solid players but retains its best player. Also, some high powered recruits from Hoke first few recruiting classes may finally be ready to contribute even if its just to add depth. It’s possible that the o-line could be touch weaker with the addition of new blood but I have no idea how to gauge that. I’m not going to worry about it.
In terms of support, Devin should have everything he needs and maybe even have an overall better receiving corps and stronger running game.
Skillz: Everyone around these parts know Devin Gardner was a high high level recruit. Once he got to campus and we saw him in Spring Games it was like, well, not that great and when he got moved to wide receiver last year I, for one, kind of convinced myself that maybe he was just another talented athlete with poorly developed QB skills. But, the numbers he put up when given extended playing time, while rusty, against not to be scoffed at defenses…jeepers. Maybe Scout was onto something when they gave him that 5th Star.
Its not crazy to think that Devin Gardner is that good. He might just be a monster. The only thing that prevents anyone from saying that confidently is sample size. So, as is my way, I try to look into the future by looking into the past. What does Devin Gardner the Monster look like?
|Devin Gardner, 2013||360||235||3200||27||8|
Yeah, baby. Lather up. Dennis Dixon. Troy Smith. Vince Young. What’s up with all those guys wearing #10 anyway? What’s up with all those guys murdering my team? Whatevs, Devin Gardner the monster looks like Michigan’s Revenge.
See, the only thing that makes this a difficult thing to believe is that posting a 160 passer rating is a difficult thing to do. But, its possible and what fundamental reason is there to say that Devin lacks the wherewithal to post that type of performance in the coming season? Depending on which set of assumptions hold, Devin will be either a really good QB or a devastating one.
If Al Borges says Devin plays like RGIII, I believe him.
(Click the Image to See Full Size Version)
Yeah, we're gonna have some fun with this. Look for the arc to continue next week.
I'd be remiss if I didn't use tomorrow's Friday Fun to take one last parting shot at Gordon Gee. Look for it on Twitter tomorrow morning!!http://www.theblockhams.com/2013/06/spartycant.html
THE BLOCKHAMS™ runs (typically) every week here at MGoBlog and on its official home page. Also, don't forget to check out the Friday Fun, my weekly single panel comic based on trending Michigan events, available on Twitter and the home page every Friday.
In the recent B1G interview, Al Borges sounded a lot like a man who had just been freed from prison. That prison, of course, was coaching one of the most dynamic players in Michigan history and NCAA's all-time leading rusher at QB.
What's clear from the interview is that Al is giddier than Heiko watching a bubble screen at the thought of running "his" offense with predominantly "his" players. But, what the hell does that mean? In Part I (of three), I'll give Al's background and coaching career through his time at UCLA. Like most of my diaries, it's long, but if you want to know Al's football past, it's thorough.
So, let's go back, waaaaaaay, back...
Al Borges started coaching football at Salinas High School in 1975. He was 19-years-old. He didn't get his bachelor's degree in physical education until 1981. This is a guy who has always been a football coach, and always wanted to be a football coach.
After six years working as a HS assistant, Al moved into the college ranks as an assitant at Cal, but only spent one season there--probably unpaid. His first big break (if you call it that) came at Diablo Valley College, a two-year community college in California's Bay Area.
FYI: This is not the Big House
After spending two years as the Tight ends/receivers coach (1983-84), Al got his first job as OC. Obviously, Diablo Valley College--which seemed destined to have a cool mascot like the "Blood Devils" or something, but ended-up with the "Vikings" and a green/white (gross) color scheme--didn't pay well, since Al worked part-time as a defensive assistant for the USFL's Oakland Invaders. The USFL, if you're wondering WTF that stands for, was the United States Football League--a pro football league that played in the spring and early summer, because in the '80's we didn't have message boards to keep us busy in the off-season.
In any event, in 1985, Al Borges was the OC for the Diablo Valley College Vikings, and he must have been pretty good at it, since Portland State hired him to do the same job in 1986. Maybe he felt comfortable with the mascot--the Portland State Vikings.
Portland State is a Division II school that was wildly successful, in a Buffalo Bills kind of way, during Borges' time there. While Al and HC Pokey Allen (no, I did not make-up that name) were building the program in 1986, the Vikings went 6-5 and scored 288 pts (26.2/gm). In '87 and '88, Borges and Allen led one of the most successful teams in DII history, putting up 406 and 474 pts (29.0 and 31.6/gm) and reaching the DII Finals both years, only to lose. As good as those teams were, Borges' last two offenses would best them--scoring 471 and 502 pts in '91 and '92 to average 33.6 and 38.6 pts/gm in his final two seasons with Portland State. Sadlly, both seasons ended in semi-final losses in the DII playoffs. Pokey's work was good enough to get him inducted into the Oregon Sports HOF. Which is pretty good, I guess.
Al then followed Pokey to Boise State, where the move to Division I-AA took its toll. Their first season they were 3-8 and managed to score only 210 pts. By year two their system was humming again, and they went 13-2 and scored 433 pts (28.9/gm) on their way to the I-AA Finals...which they lost.
Tired of second place trophies and ready for D1-A football, Al took an offer to become Oregon's OC in 1995. Al had big shoes to fill--he was taking over for Mike Bellotti (who had been promoted to HC). The Ducks would go 9-3 in Bellotti's first year as HC, and scored 326 pts (27.2/gm, #39 nationally) on their way to #18 ranking by AP. And here's where we get our first statistics:
|Plays||%||Yards||% of Yds||Yds/Play|
Under Bellotti, Borges was decidedly pass-heavy. And it's not like their passing game was that great. Tony Graziani was in his first year as a starter, and posted an underwhelming 110.95 rating with 13 TDs and 10 INTs. He averaged only 6.1 yds/att. The ground game was even worse, averaging a paltry 3.5 yds/carry, with the leading rusher (Ricky Whittle) getting most of the work and finishing the season with 1021 yards.
But Borges must have done something right, because he was offered the OC job at UCLA, which, at the time, was kind of a big deal. And there was obviously no bad blood between Borges and Bellotti, since Bellotti would later try to bring Borges back as OC (Borges had alread accepted the Indiana [wtf?!] job).
At UCLA, Borges earned his reputation as a QB guru and pretty-darn-good OC. Working under HC Bob Toledo (now the OC at SDSU), Borges had another lackluster opening season, going 5-6 (though they did beat USC). The offense averaged a very respectable 30.0 pts/gm (#30). Here are the numbers:
|Plays||%||Yards||% of Yds||Yds/Play|
The starting QB was Cade McNown, and he wasn't very good at it. McNown finished the season with a 115.24 rating, throwing for 2424 yards, 12 TDs, and 16 INTs. His 52.4% completion rate and 7.2 yds/att weren't so good either. Primary RB Skip Hicks carried the ball 224 times for 1034 yards--a 4.62 avg--and scored 17 TDs.
1997 was a different story altogether, and could be labeled as Al's "coming out party." McNown had been the goat of the '96 team (justifiably so) and no one expected much of him in his third year as a starter (he was bad in '95 too). Skip Hicks was still the starting RB. But UCLA would go 10-2, and finish the season as Co-Champs of the Pac-10, beat Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, and end-up with a #5 ranking in the AP poll. Again, the numbers:
|Plays||%||Yards||% of Yds||Yds/Play|
Remember, QB sacks count as rushing yards for some unexplainable reason, so a 4.00 yd/play rushing average is pretty bangin'. Hicks averaged 5.0 yds/carry on his way to 1282 rushing yards and 22 TDs. McNown averaged 10.0 yds/att, threw 24 TDs, and only 6 INTs while he racked-up a 166.0 (!) rating. To put that in perspective, that would have been the fifth highest-rated QB in 2012.
The best part of that '97 team? 39.8 pts/gm (#3) with only two losses: an opening defensive stinker (lost 34-37 to WaSU) followed by a 24-30 stumble against Tennessee, who finished ranked #3 in '97 with a guy named Peyton Manning. That game--against a very good Tennessee defense--was the lowest output of the season, which included a 66-3 win over Texas in week 3. Also of note, two WRs--Jim McElroy and Danny Farmer--combined for 88 (47%) of the team's 189 catches and 1,637 yards (51%).
They managed all of this with the 6th-toughest schedule in the country (SRS).
1998 was a near carbon copy. Finishing 10-2 and outright champs of the Pac-10, the Bruins' passing game was stellar again in McNown's final season. While the season did end with a disappointing 31-38 loss to Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and a #8 AP ranking, UCLA pumped out 39.7 pts/gm (#5) and had very good numbers:
|Plays||%||Yards||% of Yds||Yds/Play|
McNown would finish third in Heisman voting, posting another monster season with 3130 passing yards, 23/10 TD/INT, 9.7 yd/att, and a 156.9 rating. But Borges deviated from his "workhorse back" pattern in a big way: the top three rushers had 635, 503, and 420 yards each. The top guy--Deshaun Foster--was a freshman who wasn't quite ready for the complexities of the position, but was darn good (5.5 yds/carry). While Borges prefers a workhorse back, 1998 proved he could adjust for a talented freshman.
In 1998, the Bruins' schedule was rated the 5th-toughest (SRS).
1999 is probably a year Al would like to forget. Losing McNown and saddled with a terrible O-line, the Bruins could neither run nor pass effectively. Cory Paus started most of the season at QB, but Drew Bennett and even Ryan McCann stole some reps as none of these dupes could run the offense. UCLA stumbled to 20.9 pts/gm (#90) and went 4-7. In this case, the numbers don't lie:
|Plays||%||Yards||% of Yds||Yds/Play|
Not much to say here, except that everyone sucked. Deshaun Foster's sophomore season was plagued not only by the aforementioned terrible O-line, but also a sprained ankle and ended with just 375 yards and 3.4 yards/carry. Paus was awful; his 107.8 rating is one of the worst for a Borges QB. They were just really, really bad. The lone bright spot was a freshman WR named Freddie Mitchell, who had 38 catches for 533 yards, but not a single TD.
2000 was a step up, but certainly not a return to glory. The Bruins would finish 6-6 and lose to B1G nemesis Wisconsin 21-20 in the Sun Bowl. Paus and McCann once again shared the QB job, and the O-line was still not very good. UCLA managed 29.4 pts/gm (#40), although their SOS was rated #1. Again, the numbers tell the story:
|Plays||%||Yards||% of Yds||Yds/Play|
An anemic running game--even with Deshaun Foster as the workhorse back--made it tough for the Bruins to have any offensive success. Foster spent the season running for his life behind another bad O-line, and the QB play was shaky at best (though Paus did finish with a solid 145.7 rating in his second year starting for Al). Freddie Mitchell caught 68 passes for 1314 yards and 8 TDs, with a 19.3 yds/rec. He and fellow WR Brian Poli-Dixon caught 114 (58%) of the 198 completions and accounted for 2014 (69%!!!) of the receiving yards.
It was a so-so season at UCLA, and it would be Al's last.
Since Da’Shawn Hand is the topic of the last 24 hours, I thought I would share my experience. A friend of mine is his position coach. He got Da’Shawn as a freshman and has worked with him to help him become what he is today. Now my friend John Harris, is passionate about his job. Any guy that is still cool with you after you date his sister is a good guy. His goal in life is to get kids into college. In the years he’s been coaching, I have seen him work just as hard for his D-III kids as he has worked for Da’Shawn. DH is an unbelievable kid. He’s intelligent and mature and is a happy, fun guy. He doesn’t smoke or drink, doesn’t get involved with the wrong crowds. His idea of a good time? Him and his cousin lifting and watching film. He’s a hard worker, he doesn’t read the stuff written about him, he just focuses on dominating at the next camp, and his final season.
John, knowing I was a Michigan fan, asked me to drive into the depths of hell for The Game. I warned him that I was going to wear a “HAIL” shirt. We negotiated, that I would not wear it in the facilities, but out on the field only. These terms were agreed upon and accepted. We get there, and the police were non-cooperative with the coaches, and we ended up parking a mile away and having to walk to the stadium. It was cold as shit too btw. The coaches (except Urban) were walking around, talking to all of the recruits. I’d like to say this, despite the stupidity of Jeremy @ 11W, Da’Shawn isn’t an attention whore. He understood that Ohio was playing in their bowl game, and the coaches were busy. Even still, the coaches made it a point to take us down to talk to Urban. I couldn’t help but show him my shirt and he laughed. I told him I was rooting for him when Florida beat Ohio in the NC game, and he smirked, and said “we really took it to those guys huh?” (He also mentioned that he was approached by Brandon for the UM job)
Walked out to the stadium, in front of the student section and of course they all screamed and yelled at me as is expected from Ohio fans. Da’Shawn and his cousin were sitting with Jalen Hurd (who is going to be a stud btw). Everyone around me was very cool, we all had fun joking with each other, and no one was disrespectful. I was the only person in the whole section, standing with my hands in the air when Denard broke through that “tackle” on his long td run. In the second half, they left and went back inside and I watched the rest of the game. Without getting into too much of what really happened, they hung out with a few players and I don’t think they got along well. Kinda like meeting someone and thinking “ehh…I don’t need to be their friend.” And as Da’Shawn has stated, when you have EVERY school in the country fighting for you, you have to nitpick to eliminate them. On the ride home, I didn’t talk bad about Ohio, but I did have the UM fight song on repeat, and I did talk mention a few things about the school. So in March, we went up to UM for a visit.
As a fan, this was unreal to me, to have the opportunity to see what it’s like having the red carpet rolled out. I am originally from Michigan, but I went to U of Richmond…but to see how the school presented themselves made me proud. ALL of the coaches were cool, they all took time to speak with him. There was a huge focus on academics and for a smart kid like that, he was very interested. Brady Hoke is one of the coolest, down to earth people I have ever met. Mattison did his Ray Lewis dance for Hand, with Beyonce in the background. He also knew more than a few Rihanna songs. Lewan and Hand had a good talk, Devin was around (and has a magnificent singing voice btw…singing the Victors) . One thing John and Hand noticed was how after practice (it was the first day of spring ball) the players hung out around the field. No one was in a rush to leave, they chatted, they talked to Mrs. Hoke and Mrs. Mattison, hung out with the coaches, Brandon, and the other recruits. The “family” atmosphere…is very very real. Ferns came out just to hang out with Da’Shawn too, and they hung out with some players that night. Denard was there (getting worked out by the Patriots) and they had a good talk as well. And seeing his eyes when he walked through the tunnel into Michigan Stadium was priceless.
Now as far as the future goes, I couldn’t tell you where he ends up, I can tell you he enjoyed Michigan and hated Ohio and that’s good enough for me.
Last Monday (June 3), the Michigan baseball program secured its second commit in the 2015 class, Nick Azar, a 6-3, 205-lb. shortstop out of Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett High School. He joins Charlie Donovan (Hello post) in that class.
Info on Azar is limited. Prep Baseball Report, which doesn't currently have him in their top 10 for the state of Michigan in 2015, posted this brief bit in a recruiting rundown:
Nick Azar, SS, Univ. Liggett HS, 2015- Azar is an outstanding hockey player in addition to his baseball abilities. Azar becomes the fourth commitment in the state from the Class of 2015. He still has a ways to go in terms of polish but he stands at 6-foot-3, 205-pounds and has solid tools. Azar committed to Michigan on Monday.
Liggett is playing Concord tomorrow in an MHSAA Division 4 state tournament quarterfinal. The bracket for that division can found here.
In Division 1 (bracket here), four of the eight teams remaining feature Michigan signees or commits on their rosters. Bay City Western (Brett Adcock) faces Rockford, Temperance Bedford (Jackson Lamb) plays Howell, and U-D Jesuit (T.J. Shook and Harrison Wenson) is matched up against Sterling Heights Stevenson (Brandon Hughes).
2014 Michigan commit Drew Lugbauer helped lead Arlington to the New York state semifinals. MSG Varsity has a rundown and highlights of the team's loss in the semis, including an interview with Lugbauer.
Last month, a local Toledo-area newspaper called The Press published a nice feature article on another 2014 commit, Jayce Vancena—Michigan-bound Vancena: "Work hard, stay humble." Here's an excerpt:
“Michigan was always my No. 1 the whole time, and once they did that, I knew I didn’t want to wait, I knew I wanted to be a Michigan Wolverine,” continues Jayce. “I’ve been up to Ann Arbor a couple of times now to meet the coaches and players, and they’ve been awesome. The baseball field is just beautiful up there, the locker room is awesome, and they have an academic hall that has tutors in every subject…just for the athletes. That is what is so great about it. It’s all academics first, and baseball second.
“Out of all the players I’ve met, the one that stands out the most is fifth-year senior Ben Ballentine,” offers Vancena. “He’s just another one of those guys who loves the game of baseball and just plays it with so much heart and passion. That’s the way I try to be. I’m still the same guy who goes out to the mound every game, and plays with all of my heart and passion. I work hard to give my best effort every time I’m out there. I haven’t changed at all.
“I’ve been a Michigan fan my whole life, I’ve bled maize and blue since the day I was born, and that day Michigan offered me a scholarship…it showed me that all of my hard work over the years had really paid off to help me achieve my lifelong dream of playing college baseball,” he concludes.
Finally, I'm throwing this item in as well, even though it's not strictly about recruiting. Chris Webb of the B1G Baseball blog spoke to Erik Bakich earlier today and got some good insight into future Michigan baseball scheduling, specifically some big-name additions for 2014 and beyond.
The 2014 schedule is highlighted by a three-game set against the Houston Cougars during the second weekend of the season. After playing in the Lone Star State Michigan heads to the Irish Classic hosted by Notre Dame where such elite programs as UCLA and NC State, both participants in the 2013 College World Series, have committed to play. Michigan’s Big Ten bye week will flip in 2014, instead of occurring at the beginning of the conference schedule the Wolverines end the regular season with a bye which features a visit from Kansas.
2015 tentatively features a return visit to Kansas, a series against Oklahoma State in Ann Arbor, a season opener at Pepperdine, and a trip to Gainesville for a series versus Florida. Tentative plans for 2016 include a season-opening series at North Carolina and a return visit to Oklahoma State.
Welcome to the 2013 Women’s Football Academy!
So, not all of the MGoBlog readership are dudes sitting in their underpants in front of a computer screen. This is my (long form) experience at the event this year; I’ve changed the order of events somewhat for better flow. Grab a beer, this is long. (If you’re driving, put down the beer and your phone and watch where the heck you’re going.)
The Important Thing:
This is really a fundraiser primarily and brought in $110,000 for the Patient and Family Services at the Cancer Center. Woohoo!
The Day Begins:
The gates to parking open at 7:00 and doors open at 7:30, so of course I got there at 6:45 to be first in line. Unfortunately, I wasn’t first, but close enough to it so I would make it to the front of the autograph line. Starting at 7:30 the players are in the parking lot greeting the women as they arrive, but I missed that in lieu of autograph signing. Last year I wasn’t there at the crack of dawn and consequently was at the back of the line for Denard and I didn’t want to be at the back of the line (for anyone) again.
After check in where you receive your T-shirt, badge, wrist band and fundraising prizes it was breakfast time and autograph time. This year, to make sure that the most women get autographs from the “high value” players, they had the “high value” players at one set of tables with one line. One item per person, no photos (I broke this rule) and lots of volunteers to move people along. At the table were: Russ Bellomy, Courtney Avery, Drew Dileo, Jibreel Black, Jake Ryan, Jeremy Gallon, Devin Gardner, Brendan Gibbons, Jeremy Jackson, Fitz Touissant, Taylor Lewan and Quinton Washington (maybe 1 more I don’t remember). I asked if the seniors had a good time at Navy Seals camp and they said they did. I also asked if anyone got injured there and they said no. I asked Russ Bellomy and Jake Ryan about their recoveries and they both said that they are progressing nicely. Jake said he isn’t sure if he will play this season (although later he said he is aiming for a 6 month recovery so he can play part of the season).
I told Taylor Lewan that his internet fan base is very concerned about the fate of Dr. Hamlet III and asked why they had to get rid of him – specifically was it a landlord issue? As it turns out, one of the player’s parents owns the house and has the players live there so it wasn’t a landlord issue, but an aggressive pig issue. They gave him to a farm (a real one, not the fake one in the sky). They did not eat him. While I did not ask to see Lewan’s finger ‘stache, I did ask to see Bellomy’s, Ryan’s and Touissant’s surgery scars. Fitz’s scar is not as large as you would think and it is still quite swollen and red (indurated is the word that medical types would use) – I expected it would be much flatter and smoother by now. Jeremy Jackson was very nice and we chatted about A2 after he found out I was a local. I got pics with Jake Ryan (I sat on his good leg), Devin, Jeremy Gallon and Brendan Gibbons. My friend and I were duly chastised by the volunteers for slowing down the line. Oh well…
After navigating the line we were free to find other players and coaches to chat and get autographs. We first saw Al Borges. I asked him about his relationship with Heiko and does he really like Heiko? He said “I like Heiko to argue with him.” Since I think it is awesome that Heiko is doing this in his free time from his MD/PhD, I asked if he knew that. Borges answered, “Yea, he’s a darn stubborn med student!” My friend’s son goes to school with the Borges kids and they chatted about school, teachers, etc… My friend’s sister was waiting in the Brady Hoke line for us, so we got to see a few other players. I spoke with Desmond Morgan (whom I ate lunch with last year) and thanked him for spending time with us and told him how it’s really nice to get to know some players as it makes me more invested in their FB careers. I told him how I cheered for him so much more since I know what a nice person he is. He was very humble and thanked me for the support. I also spoke briefly with Frank Clark, who was carrying around a ½ gallon of OJ. I decided it best not to bring up the trouble with the law and just get the signature and say “Go Blue”. He is huge, by the way. I got an autograph and pic with Coach Mattison. I asked about the off season and his grandkids and they are both doing fine (off season and grandkids, that is). My friend, her sister and I were the last people to get Coach Hoke’s autograph and picture before the Welcome Ceremony. They were chatting about being native Ohioans and I just said “Go Blue”.
The Welcome Ceremony:
This was hosted by Ira somebody and Sam Webb. Now, as this is a fundraiser for Patient and Family Services at the Cancer Center, we listened to some speeches about Patient and Family Services and how much good we do by fundraising. Sam Webb told a personal story about his wife’s struggle with ovarian cancer and how she is now pregnant! Very touching. Then we get into the football basics – first they told us “Don’t do anything you aren’t comfortable with – someone broke her nose last year and we don’t want that again.” I was thinking that she was probably comfortable until she broke her nose! Then we got a breakdown of what each position on the field is. This was something new and very helpful. While you guys may have played football or learned about it in gym, I (and many other women), certainly never learned these things. So Mark Smith went position by position telling us the name and the function of each position and which player will be starting there. This is where we learned the difference between WILL and MIKE and that Desmond Morgan is being moved from WILL to MIKE. After a few chants of “Beat Ohio”, we were off to team stretching.
The Football Learning Part:
We all spread out on the yard lines in the field house and did stretching with the team. Dennis Norfleet was on my left and Devin Funchess was on my right. I managed to get a pic with Funchess before the volunteers made me get back in line. But, I did manage to talk to Norfleet while we stretched. I asked what music is in his head when he is drumming on field and he told me “anything, mostly R&B”. I asked what his major is and he told me music. It turns out he is a singer. He also told me he doesn’t like “pump up” music, just relaxing R&B.
My first rotation was QB. Thankfully they had small balls for us and our smaller hands (heh, heh, she said balls). We learned the grip from Devin and he described the throwing motion as “flicking the booger”. Only the index finger needs to be flicking the booger, any others are just going to mess up the relationship between the index finger and the ball. Then we had to get down on our knees (on field turf, in shorts, mind you) to throw to your partner. I got some coaching from Cleary (the walk on QB) and Bellomy. The QBs do this to practice the throwing motion and not worry about feet. I asked Bellomy if he is doing this drill and he is not allowed to do this yet. Then we worked on “sexy feet”, which you guys know is the stepping and turning involved in throwing. Devin is a clown and spent the time teasing Borges and clowning with us ladies. Then we broke it down by yelling “Go Blue” and doing a swag (hard to describe, you need to see it).
Next station, O-line, led by Taylor Lewan. We worked on the stance and shoving our opponent (one of the players) in the man boobs. There wasn’t very much exciting stuff here. When we were breaking it down at the end, Lewan was very funny. He was saying, “Everybody bring it in tight, nice and close, make me feel safe. Oh, I love being surrounded to so many moms. You all make me feel safe.” Then we yelled, “O-line is the most attractive” over and over.
I’m pretty sure we punted after that. Hagerup was not involved and Wile wasn’t there, so it was the backup punter, Kenneth Allen (who?) that helped us break our toes. Punting is hard.
Running backs up next. I was in Norfleet’s line (there were only 2 of us per player). We did drills on weaving in and out of cones. It was a race, so a lot of sprinting here. This is where I noticed the “D” and “N” tattooed on his calves (L and R respectively). Each letter has flames coming off of it. Pretty nice view for the people behind him.
Off to the Linebackers station with Coach Mark Smith. 3 players were there, Desmond Morgan was one, but I can’t recall the other 2. We broke off into small groups and did drills shadowing our receiver, making sure we followed all their moves. After that we practiced shuffling different directions based on which way the QB is looking; we had to switch whenever our QB looked the other way, and then, of course, catch the interception and bring it home for a touchdown. It was good practice catching, but nothing else really notable at this point.
Coach Mallory then coached us on how to have a proper stance and “take off” for backward running. This is more tricky than you think and we spent quite a while getting into the stance and taking one step at the whistle. My hamstrings are paying for this today.
We got into the nitty gritty of diagram reading and how to make a proper huddle. I had no idea that there was a way to make a proper huddle; it always looked random to me. The center calls the huddle and then the players line up in order on either side, making a circle and the QB is opposite the center. Then we went over some easy plays. We ran several of the easy plays, using large barrels as the defense. I think this really helped us later on when we were in our scrimmage. Also, flag football belts are trickier than they look.
Next we went to kill our toes again, or if you happen to be a former soccer player, kick field goals. I didn’t really do anything exciting, but my friend was with Gibbons and got a lot of info. It turns out that he has graduated as well and is pursuing a graduate degree in Social Work. They spent a long time talking business as she is a social worker. I don’t think that his handlebar mustache (yes, handlebar) and goatee combo will go over well in the professional world.
Next was the route running station. We learned a route (stick route) and ran that a few times. Kevin Koger (not Kroger) was there. He turned out to be a good passer and none of us dropped the ball. OK, we’re getting pretty pooped here and it’s time to move on.
TACKLING! Yea! One of my favorites! We have to tackle a small dummy and jump onto the 3 ft thick mat. Then we catch an interception, jump into the endzone and do a celebration dance (did I mention, they like to make us dance?). Finally, we have a course of dummies to go through and tackle, catch the ball and score. I was fading folks, I don’t remember who coached us here. But, we brought ENERGY and got lots of high fives.
The home stretch, back outside to the practice field. Here we started with receiving drills. We split into 3 lines and did route after route catching the ball. The line with the most drops has to do pushups, so there is motivation. Unfortunately, my line was full of butterfingers and we lost. Fortunately, the horn blew just then and we were off the hook and off to receiver station! I really didn’t want anyone seeing me do girly pushups.
Jeremy Jackson, Jeremy Gallon, Joe Reynolds and many others were here. We practiced different routes, all leading to the TD. Of course there was more celebration dancing and Gallon was the one egging us on. We also got to run the dong forest here, and Coach Heck threw us the passes as we ran through. I caught all my passes! Just remember to keep your hands in front of your face, index fingers and thumbs making a triangle (see, it’s easy). When we were breaking it down, we all yelled “Receivers are the cutest” and Gallon did a back flip for us.
Then it was time for the defensive ends and I have Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton coaching me. They were talking crap to each other a lot, which was funny. Ojemudia is not nearly as intimidating as he looks in his recruiting photo and is, actually, very soft spoken. He was extremely unimpressed with my stance, I need to bend my legs more, butt up higher, and on and on. I’m glad I didn’t wear my see through shorts. Taco Charlton is VERY tall (not Tacopants tall, though). He was also very patient with me and the other 2 ladies, trying to get us to take the 3 moves and make them into 1 smooth movement. I was tired and irritated by all the black rubber crap in my shoes. I didn’t do well.
Last station was the defense x’s and o’s. We got 2 schemes, cover 1 and cover 3. I decided to be a safety, so Thomas Gordon walked me and the other safeties through the ins and outs of how to be a safety. Basically, NEVER LET A MAN BEHIND YOU. Easier said than done. Also, we went over how to use the flag belts properly (see, trickier than you thought). We were given the advice that on offense, tie them and if on defense you see the offense has tied them, turn them in for a penalty!
Big Ten Refs:
We had a session with some Big Ten refs. They explained what it takes to be a ref, like continuing education, testing and evaluations. They actually have standardized testing to pass both in June and July ANNUALLY, so those of you who complain about recertification 1 time per decade shut your trap. There is also work in every month of the year, like learning new rules, etc…We discussed Offensive and Defensive Pass Interference including the definition of those and reviewed tape of said infractions. Then they had tape for us to review and make the call. They did show how, on the field, perspective makes a difference, as you may be able to see a shove from one angle and not another. Each ref is reviewed on every call, every non-call and every play of every game. We were told that some calls are much more subjective than others and you can often make your case as to why you did or didn’t call something. The most serious infraction is getting the rules wrong. That is an easy way to lose your job. The 2 officials agreed that the best game of the season is the 1st because it means you kept your job. One lady asked about bias toward calling infractions as they did state that they review tape on each team before they ref the games. By reviewing they can look for tendencies of certain teams or players so they can be watching for that. The officials did admit it that this practice may, in fact, make them more likely to call things on certain teams or players. I was going to ask about bias toward schools, like if you are an Ohio alum are you allowed to call their game, but the horn sounded and it was time to move on.
The Weight Room And Locker Room:
We were then in the weight room, which is 10,000 square feet. It has traditional weights, cardio machines, rehab machines and many stone-age looking things. It is emblazoned with inspirational sayings from many notables from Lao Tzu to Michael Jordan. “Beat Ohio” takes a predominant place, as does “The Team, The Team, The Team”. There is a countdown clock to the Ohio State game and a count up clock of “Days Since last Victory over Ohio State”. There is also a MSU countdown clock, not as prominent. We had a talk from the athletic trainers about what they do and how they work with the kids over the summer (only 8hrs/week). The head coach, position coach and head trainer devises an individualized plan for each athlete to complete over the off season, so each athlete knows what to work on. The nutritionist (who is former nutritionist for the Patriots) also develops a diet plan based on the need to gain or lose weight. When they are in a muscle building phase, it is recommended to get 1g protein/pound body weight. They don’t regularly do strict calorie counting because if you are getting that much protein the calories “fall into place”. There is a nutrition station in the weight room with protein bars, snacks (lots of nuts and jerky), protein shakes, Gatorade, pop, etc… Taylor Lewan benches 420#. Jeremy Gallon benches the most “pound for pound” (wt lifted/player wt). They use medieval looking chains to enhance lifting. The idea is when the bar is low there are fewer links to lift and it gets heavier as you move it higher. This can be for bench pressing or squats. The trainer was telling us that this matches the physiologic muscle power curve, or some such thing. Some machines are also hooked to a pressurized air line so that resistance can be adjusted. The last, greatest piece in the weight room, near the entrance (where we exited, as we had entered through the rear) is the National Championship Ring. It is as large as a bracelet! But, apparently someone has really enormous fingers. It has a lot of bling on it and is awesome!
Locker room is next, and it is a posh locker room. There were snacks waiting for us: fruit (apples, bananas), jerky (beef, turkey and vegan) as well as Gatorade. The locker room has 2 levels with the upper level on the outside and the lower level sunken centrally. The upperclassmen are on the bottom level, where there are couches and chairs (leather!). Devin Gardner has a photo of the team (OMG) shirtless in the snow on the practice field. There was a lot of equipment to look at, but mostly we were hungry and also wanting to touch Taylor Lewan’s mousse (yes, mousse).
Almost lunch! We were treated to feats of strength by Frank Clark, Desmond Morgan and someone else. They lifted heavy chains with people pulling the chains down, did pushups with 50# sandbags on their backs and rolled an enormous (5ft tall) round weight cylinder up and down the field. All with crazy, tired, and hungry women screaming them on.
Lunch and Q&A:
Yummy buffet. Some speechifying. I give them kudos for including diet drinks in the drink line up.
The Q&A was a panel led by Mattison and had Borges, 2 coaches wives, Devin Gardner, Taylor Lewan and Jake Ryan. Mattison asked Taylor what went into his decision to stay at Michigan (and “give up millions of dollars”) vs. go to the NFL. He told us that almost everyone he had ever met came out of the woodwork to give him conflicting advice. In the end, he shut off his phone, had some alone time and thought about what was important to him. What is important? Winning a Big Ten Championship. Not letting his teammates down. Enjoying being a student at Michigan. He said, “I will never get that year back. I will have many years in the NFL, but only one year left here and I can’t just come back and redo it if I leave.” His voice is much higher than you would think for someone so burly. Then Mattison asked Jake Ryan about his injury and how he’s doing. Ryan told us his goal is to recover in 6 months. He is doing PT 3.5 hours per day in addition to working out and taking classes. He had some trouble coping with the injury emotionally and he relied on Countess and Wormley for advice on how to deal with the limitations and expectations.
Mattison then asked Borges about life as a coach. Borges replied that for 43 years he lived and breathed football until he met his wife. Then his perspective changed and he adjusted his goals. He had been aiming for the NFL, but after getting married, he and wife decided that there was more coaching stability in college. Eight years ago, they adopted their first child arrived and, again, perspective changed again. You don’t spend as much time in the office or locker room as when you are a carefree single dude. Six years ago, daughter arrived. More perspective change. He did laugh about being an older father. He joked that when his kids are teenagers, if he tells them no, they can’t have the car, they will unplug his ventilator. Very happy to be at Michigan, etc…Then the coaches wives were asked what it is like being a “football widow”. One answered, “I’m tired of the neighbors asking if my husband lives (at home)”. The other answered, “You really are a single parent. You are the disciplinarian, the chef, the chauffeur, the bottle washer. You are it. You have to be ok with it. Some women get lost in their husband’s identity and that is a big risk not to have your own works or outside activities.”
Mattison then praised Gardner effusively for the self sacrifice in riding the bench behind Denard when he could have been at a different school being the star, taking the WR position and resuming the role of QB in a pinch. Devin admitted it was hard to relearn the QB things after focusing so hard on WR. His stats show he worked hard – 1200 yards, 60% completion, 11 TDs in 5 games (or something like that Mr. Statistician, I did this all from memory, no notes). He said he had to miss some classes to catch up. Now he is very glad to be the #1 QB.
One woman then asked about academics and what support they get. Many of these things we already knew: the players get priority scheduling during the season as they may not have classes after 2:00pm. They have academic counselors and tutors. Devin detailed a day: wake up at 6:00am and workout, classes from 8:00am-2:00pm, practice and workout 2:00pm-7:00pm and homework/tutoring 8:00pm-11:00pm. He said, “I don’t feel sorry for the students complaining about 8:00 class that is hard to wake up for. I already worked out for 2 hours; I feel like I got run over by a truck; I want a nap; I’m tired and I have to work out more later.” The wives pointed out that the players can’t take just Basketweaving 101 during the season, they actually have to take a minimum number of credits that is reported to the NCAA.
The guys were asked about pre-game rituals. Gardner says he is very mean before games and inward focused. He doesn’t like to talk to anyone and listens to Gospel music. He did say he will have to learn to not be mean before games now that he is one of the leaders. Lewan said, “I don’t do anything crazy like put my underwear on over my pants or anything.” He does feel that the warm up gets him very amped up for the game and he can’t sit down after warm ups, he just paces and walks circles in the locker room. He will listen to John Mayer to bring him down if he is amped up too much. Jake Ryan has a strange pre-game ritual that goes back to his first game starting, Western Michigan. He wears sweatbands around his knees (take a look, it’s true). At the Western Game, he was running behind and put his cleats on before the sweatbands. He realized it late and kind of squirmed into them. Now that is how he does it every game. Why does he wear sweatbands around his knees? “Because I think I’m cool or something.” The same girl who asked about pre-game ritual also told the players that us meeting them is like a 5 year old girl meeting Justin Bieber. Too true.
To the Big House! We played 11-on-11 and were coached by Coach Heck and the receivers. It is HOT on the field. We played offense and defense for about a half hour and our team won!
That’s all folks! I hope you enjoyed my experience at Women’s Football Academy!
I know, I know "Pix or it didn't happen". I do have pix, but I prefer to keep those private.