somehow we're only 124th
2011 senior class
survivors are few and wan
This year's Jack Shaftoe
The king of the vagabonds
Hair of Norse legend
Two touchdowns, one game
then detached, floating to ground
a serene finish
Ryan Van Bergen
Axes ring, crash and thump
Poplars topple, maples fall
Van Bergen stands, still
Fall takes leaves from trees
and leaves defensive tackle
face down, defeated
Spread fullback in bloom
Your existential crisis
will be no problem
Except insofar as he's
Jared Van Slyke
Things can be worse than
saying "yes, yes, that Van Slyke":
Michael Jackson's kid
Ankle, wrist, ankle
people who call you "Woolfork"
TWoolf ain't easy
Throw it up, way up
in clouds a man emerges
hands grasping his prize
Suns collide, stars burst
the duality of man
Picked M over O
In a rare, rare time for that
The earth moves in waves
There is a man, then a gap,
then there is nothing
To take the fail rays
Head on for four of five years
BOUNCE BOUNCE BOUNCE BOUNCE BOUNCE
occasionally jet straight
BOUNCE BOUNCE BOUNCE BOUNCE BOUNCE
The first mountain goat
Survived Northwestern '08
So, I hear you're a
Long snapper. How's that going?
Cool, cool. I am a—
(click the little pics for previous entries)
We're talking about these seniors. And I figure now's as good a time as any to specify exactly what we're thankful for. It's not simply loyalty to an institution: that for its own sake can lead to otherwise good institutions looking the other way when their members do awful things (see: MSU, OSU, PSU, SEC). Except for an extremely abstract and debatable conceptualization of Michigan as a "good guys" program, what our seniors have done by sticking through the "least rewarding Michigan careers in decades" is not a good because of a higher universal cause it served.
Whom it served was themselves (for they did get degrees), their fellow teammates who stayed, and most importantly for our purposes, us. We thank them for this because Michigan football, for reasons we can't quite articulate without sounding at least a little bit foolish, is massively, massively important to us. And while you can debate whether Michigan's football is—relatively or absolutely—a beacon of morality, or whether caring this much about the athletic derring do's of 22-year-olds is a healthy thing, what nobody is debating is that this thing called Michigan could have become something much less than it is today, and that these seniors, these seniors, saved it.
JUNIOR-JUNIOR JUNIOR JR.
Kenneth Earl "Junior" Hemingway had his own personal angry X–hating god. Services were split on him, depending on whether leaping (tremendous) or speed (sub-mendous) was the high school scout's attribute of choice. Part of that disagreement was, as you probably guessed, because of an injury his junior season. At times in his Michigan career Junior was sidelined with a bum shoulder, sometimes mononucleosis, sometimes a pulled hamstring, sometimes a sprained ankle, sometimes a sprained knee, sometimes an "abrasion," and sometimes another bum shoulder. And sometimes…
The mono struck shortly after that tantalizing catch in '08. Hemingway wasn't allowed to go near his teammates, except his roommate Mike Williams, and even then they had to label their videogame controllers so as not to spread the Junior juju. That was Junior's low point, but the resulting medical redshirt did give him this season (he played as a depth guy in '07).
A National Honor Society member and academic achievement winner, as the story goes (I haven't confirmed this but it matches most students' experiences including mine) he earned enough credits before the end of the '08 season to qualify for "junior standing," meaning Junior spent three years (academically, chronologically, redshirt-) as a junior, which I find fascinating. Possessed of remarkable body control, when Hemingway was available he was Michigan's go-to possession receiver who got tons of YAC, some inexplicable, some simply inconceivable:
"Junior always wants to make big plays," [Denard] Robinson said. "I think he's one of the best receivers in the country."
The same year Hemingway arrived, Michigan's offense transitioned to a zone running scheme. While MANBALL likes centers with enough mass to move massive nose tackles out of the hole, the perfect zone center is a guy who's really strong but also really nimble and really smart. A zone center who can get playside of a DT who's lined up playside of him, and seal that guy off—this is called a reach block—has pretty much created an instant 6 yards for the offense. It is also the hardest block for any offensive lineman to make. I learned this in October of 2008, when somebody first said that David Molk is the best offensive player on the team.
I have a thing for short people. My wife is a generous 5'0. Desmond Howard made me a Michigan fan. When Mike Hart graduated I never thought another player could ever displace him as all-time favorite Wolverine. Because football is weird the guy who would was already on the sidelines.
At one point Molk was a 5'6, 175-lb high school freshman. Then he discovered the weight room and it was love at first lift. Whereas most of Michigan's on-hand interior guys were a terrible fit for Rich Rodriguez's spread 'n shred and Barwis's legendary weight room, this hit-loving, high-motor, high-attitude, high-academic, low-elevation lineman was born for it.
In 2008 Molk never missed a single offensive play. The ones where he reached some dude and Brandon Minor went RAGE-ing into the secondary were interspersed with plays where the whittle guy got tossed into the backfield by various Ogbu monsters and inadvertently kicking Sheridan in the dong (3&O). Molk responded by getting stronger, winning the Iron Wolverine Award as the best-conditioned Michigan lineman. By his sophomore year he was a Lombardi and Rimington candidate and Michigan's offense came alive. Then he broke a foot against EMU, Moosman moved to center, and the offense wasn't as good. Molk came back from the foot (and surgery) for the first series against Penn State and Michigan went 70 yards in the opening scoring drive that consisted almost entirely of 7-yard gains. During that drive Molk tore a ligament in his knee, God canceled Christmas, and all things that ever happened again were the bad things.
If you are concerned that Molk's impending graduation means the dong-punching will start again, this is not an unreasonable fear.
Molk did return in '10—said he: "It's been almost eleven months. Somebody is going to pay."—and was a Rimington finalist and First Team All Big Ten, leading the way for Denard Robinson's Heisman candidate year despite more injuries that Molk refused to talk about. The one we knew knocked him out in the 3rd play versus Iowa. That hurt the rest of the year, though you'd never hear that from Molk. Here's a snapshot of Molk from half-time of the Wisconsin game:
David Molk decided to pull himself up, and he wanted his teammates to come up with him. They were slumped in their stalls, ready to concede, when he stood up and marched around the room. "Hey, Michigan! Are we fucking scared? Because we're playing like it! We are all on our fucking heels. ALL OF US!
"We gotta drop our fucking nuts and MAN UP! We are NOT lying down! We are NOT scared! We will fight! We will FIGHT! And we will GET AFTER THEM!
"Everyone STAND UP! Stretch out! I mean it!"
"Get up!" Van Bergen said, and they did.
"We're gonna hit 'em in the fucking face," Molk said, "and they'll cry! They'll bleed! NOW LET'S GO!"
The offence went out and played the best half against the Badgers that Wisconsin saw all year. But the defense played the worst and Michigan lost 45-28.
Then Rodriguez was fired. Despite the accolades Molk's stature and the NFL's style didn't make a jump to the pro's likely. Not that Molk ever thought about it…
"A lot of thigns had to happen to go 3-9—not because of the coach, but because of the transition. Every guy who had a chance to leave, left. That tore our team apart. We lost starters, backups, you name it. There were only half of us left.
"We're a family. I love all you guys. No matter how much shit I give you—I love you. If we don't' stay together, we'll never make it. This program stays together. I don't want to see anyone leaving. If you do, we'll be crappy for three more years.
"I love Coad Rod. He did everything he could. But now it rests on us."
JUST JUMP ALREADY … (after the jump)
(Compare to yesterday's)
We're talking about these seniors. Yesterday was the Class of '08 plus Grady, players who either committed to Rodriguez or at least had time to break their commitments to Michigan after the coaching change. The level of commitment to the program by those guys may have been unparalleled in Michigan history but for some of their fellow seniors from the Class of 2007. This is Part II. It's running long still and I have family in town so the last four guys will have to be a Part III. Anyway, 2007…
This class committed to 'Lloyd Carr's University of Michigan' while the Wolverines were riding the best defense in the country to 3 points shy of playing for the National Championship. Their careers began by watching, redshirted, as The Horror obliterated every shred of mysticism the program had, yet they stuck by Michigan. They stuck by Michigan when their coaches and systems were replaced, stuck by Michigan when outsiders trashed the program and some insiders were actively trying to sabotage it. They stuck by coaches they hadn't chosen, right up until those coaches were shown the door. Then they met with their teammates, told their story, and made sure that when another staff came through the door, everyone would stick by Michigan.
It would be ungracious to not mention some of their classmates who stayed until their health or eligibility ran out: Renaldo Sagesse, a bonhomme Quebecois and one-time 20-year-old freshman. Secret weapon Martell Webb, a blocking tight end whose great contributions to the 2010 offense went largely unremarked. Michael Williams, maligned in these parts as only bad underclassman free safeties can be, who had to choose between the best years of his football career or having a functional brain the rest of his life. And James Rogers, a positional vagabond who finally went wherever he was very needed indeed. And some of the walk-ons like John McColgan, Jered van Slyke, Zac Johnson, Tony Anderson, and Tom Pomarico who've had to earn their roster spots (and some, scholarships) from three different coaching staffs. What follows is the story of eight more guys like that, again in reverse order of length of commitment.
Will Heininger had a story written about him once in the Daily by the inimitable Joe Stapleton. Will was the kid in Michigan gear who became the teenager who knew more about the team than the lifer sitting next to him, who gave up a likely career in baseball to walk on to the team of his dreams. As a redshirt sophomore Heininger beat out scholarship upperclassmen like Sagesse, Greg Banks and Adam Patterson to be the first guy rotated in when Brandon Graham needed a breather. With Graham in the NFL a 2010 starter role was in his grasp, but then Heininger tore his ACL at the end of Spring Practice. He missed the first 10 games of the season, but fought his way back on the field, albeit not yet fully back to form, for Wisconsin, Ohio State and the Gator Bowl.
Finally this year he earned the starting job as a utility D-lineman, over guys like Jibreel Black and Will Campbell. While doing all of this Heininger has been named Academic All-Big Ten every year since '08, and has been nominated for his third Big Ten Distinguished Scholar award.
My Papi, my grandpa, I like to have his initials or his name somewhere on me. My tape, or something like that, during the game to see him always …He’s from Columbus, but he’s a Michigan Man. He’s the biggest influence on my life and he passed just this past spring. He’s a great man and he’s part of the reason I’m here. He’s always out there watching over me."
Brandon Herron was a project*, a Texas (same school as TWoolf) kid built like a safety who played defensive end and projected as a linebacker. He had good athleticism but was consistently listed as something less than 200 which your mind rounds up to 200. He was raaaaaaww.
Raw freshman often don't pan out even if they're recruited by a competent coach for their specific skillset, and that coach then spends five years drilling a single system into the player's brain. Herron didn't have that; he was an afterthought classmate-of-a-recruit body in a "NEED LINEBACKERS LIKE WHOA" class, given first to Steve Szabo (the guy who spoke for Carr's assistants in Bacon's book, now EMU's LB coach), then to Jay Hopson, then to GERG. Other than an ankle injury for a chunk of 2010 his career was a lot of "contributed on special teams."
Herron kept plugging along, even when his name hardly popped up in the carousel of "Which weakside linebacker impressed Mattison today?" of this spring and fall camps. Then on Opening Day 2011 versus WMU he was suddenly the starter and proceeded to score two defensive touchdowns (one a 94-yarder that still stands as the most significant swing play of the year). Those won him a handful of national defensive player of the week awards (UFR of that game revealed his play was really just so-so). Then he got hurt, and fell back behind Hawthorne and the freshmen and his career was cooked.
When Kovacs sacked the quarterback and he forced the fumble, we saw something in the offense so we made a check, which led me to come off the edge so it opened up a hole for him to get through. [The WMU OT] he kind of brushed me off, he didn't really pick me up, so I just kind of went around, then [breaks into huge smile] heard the hit, saw the hit, and saw the ball on the ground, and just went out there, and next thing you know I'm running towards the end zone.
*BONUS: The 'Hello:' article for Herron has their coach saying "I really believe he's a safety" about Woolfolk, and Brian saying 'not gonna happen.' Oh hindsight.
When Coaching Change the First happened, the offensive line was already one year into transitioning from MANBALL blocking to zone. The tackles were senior All Everything Jake Long, Mt. Alex Mitchell, and a collection of eh man-blocking dudes. Redshirting was one of just two offensive linemen (and sole tackle) recruited in 2007, and to be honest the 6'6, 280, two-star obscure guy whose next-best offer was Ball State was more someone's backup plan than a system diamond they'd uncovered. So came Mark Huyge. Brian wrote him off as "Unlikely to ever play extensively."
Huyge sat buried on the depth chart for a few years grumbling about having to puke for Barwis instead of down pizzas for Gittleson, took some padded LSA classes with some of the other dissatisfied guys from the Lloyd era, then watched as successive RR jackrabbits displaced him and finally transferred to Someplace Division II College Tech. That's about how it went, right Mark?
Well, he could have done that. What Huyge did do was embrace the new staff, lifted his way up the depth chart against established returning starters, and by 2009 was Schofielding his way into whatever guard or tackle spot was available. Every time a guy like Omameh in '09, Lewan in '10, or Schofield in '11 emerged to finally displace him, Huyge would manage to either fend that guy off, or pop up to displace the next weakest starter on the line. He's never been spectacular, never threw a safety into Manti Te'o or killed a donkey, but he's been in there, so much now that when he's not there next year I'll be sorely missing him.
Had Michigan got any of the OTs they were after in '07, Huyge would probably have committed to Brady Hoke, then seen Hoke take off for SD State. So when the old staff entered and the new one came, Huyge 'grabbed the helm' as a senior leader and oft team spokesman. He was one of the seniors who organized the "don't anybody bail on your teammates" meetings that held the players together in the darkest days of last winter.
Oh and somewhere in there Huyge also managed to take a thousand bus trips up to North Campus; he'll walk in December with a degree in naval architecture and marine engineering, then marry his fiancee. That must have been what the second star from Scout was for.
“It’s going to be a big one next week. We’ll enjoy this one for a little bit, but the whole emphasis starting back in January when these guys got here was this game coming up. We’ll be really looking forward to them, and we’ll be ready.”
Tomorrow (sorry it's taking so long): Hemingway, Molk, Watson, Woolfolk, RVB.
EDIT: Moved Grady to this group
I've written plenty about the guys from the classes of '07 and '08 who didn't make it to this week. This one's for the guys who did.
Many had to overcome hideous, season-ending injuries to get here. They also stuck around through two paradigm-shifting coaching changes, or watched the guy and the system they committed to run out of town.What they signed up for was multiple Big Ten championships and Rose Bowls, but what they got was the most tumultuous years at Stadium and Main since Yost dug a hole in the ground.
What they leave is a program on the verge of a BCS bowl, on the verge of another reshaping, on the verge of one final chance to beat Ohio State. The leadership they provided helped Michigan avoid another painful transition, and set the tone for more success to come. There have been many great seniors to graduate from Michigan, but it is no derogation of them to say that this class is a bit special. Here are their stories (in reverse order of commitment):
EARLY RICH-RODIGAN JET-SMURFS:
Michael Shaw was the wizard hat to Trotwood teammate Roundtree's snake oil, a Penn State commit (Carr had wanted him as a CB) who switched to Michigan at the last minute. Unlike fellow '08 RB recruits he had neither captured the imagination of the Internet by hurdling fools, nor did he have a name that 13-year-olds use on prank calls. What Shaw had was speed, hands, and a cut-and-bounce move. People thought he might be a slot receiver. The era Shaw played in was replete with RBs of various skillsets, and proximity to Carlos Brown made for exaggerated comparisons. Various injuries made for sporadic appearances. He started the '09 Ohio State game and was nominally the starter at the beginning of this year. Everyone will have to pick their endearing memory of bouncy Shaw; mine will be the block on McNaul against NU (the purple one) and Batman.
"Normally they're keying in on me. I don't know why, but they're keying in on me, so that's where [Denard] gets his yards from … We had an idea they were going to try to contain Denard, but we also thought Notre Dame was going to try to contain him."
Martavious Odoms was billed as the perfect slot bug, the prototypical Rich Rodriguez Pahokee speedster with skillz who's completely overlooked because he's tiny. He was brought in to return kicks and punts, block like a mountain goat, and catch bubble screens. Whenever someone of the old guard complained about "little Florida guys" who "won't make it in the Big Ten," they were talking about Odoms.
Tay almost immediately grabbed that slot position and led the team in receptions as a somewhat fumbly true freshman. His sophomore season it was his mountain goat blocking and magnificent TD against Indiana that prevented a Hoosier loss from ever being added to the pile of Rodriguezian indignities. But he sprained a knee against Penn State and missed the rest of the season while redshirted classmate Roy Roundtree exploded. Odoms returned as the world's smallest outside WR in 2010 until a broken foot knocked him out for the second half of the year. This year several broken bits kept Odoms on the sideline as Gallon emerged, until Odoms reprised the Indy TD (@8:51) against Nebraska.
Denard, can you talk about what you saw on the Odoms TD?
Denard: “Me and Martavious had a race, what, two years ago? So I saw that he can run, and he went right past the defenders and I put it in the air.”
What happened in that race?
Odoms, to Denard: “… What happened?”
Denard: “You have to tell them. You have to tell them.”
Odoms: “No, you should tell them.”
Denard: “Ah … he beat me. He got a win there. He got a win.”
Kelvin Grady committed to Michigan before any of these guys, but for basketball. After his sophomore ('08-'09) season Grady left the backcourt to join his brother in Rich Rod's basketball on grass. Grady also left his sure scholarship, and had to compete with the rest of the walk-ons to earn a football one (he did). Grady19 immediately pushed for playing time in the now crowded slot rotation, showing great route running but not so great hands. Then last year the hands improved—as in he caught almost everything thrown his way—and also became the designated reverse guy.
This year he's rotated in every game, despite there being another guy who's "emerged" at his position every year he's been here (Odoms, Roundtree, Gallon). His eligibility will run out after this season, but Kelvin has already received his Bachelor's degree, and is a year into his Master's in Social Work.
"It crossed my mind that I wouldn't have anything," said Grady, who started 25 basketball games as a freshman before seeing his time reduced last year. "I'd be out. I'd be just like the rest of the guys back home who dropped out of college and didn't have anywhere else to go. But I'm too strong. I've got too much will. I've got a family that supports me. I've got a brother [Kevin, a senior running back for Michigan] that's working hard.
"I just want to say to you Florida boys it's not so bad in Michigan."
Terrence Robinson may not get a 5th year; the Texas 4-star was another slot bug who actually won the job in '08 before Odoms. He caused a Nebraska fumble on special teams this year—I don't know what his plans are if there's a scholarship available.
J.B. Fitzgerald got the Victor Hobson designation in the four-man YMRMFSPA haul of Foote-Hobson-Crable-C.Graham. This was thanks to um, large hands? Fitz also was considered quite raw, needing considerable coaching on his read and reaction skills. In this, it's hard to argue that Michigan didn't fail him, provided Jay Hopson then GERG as his position coaches. Fitzgerald was never a threat to displace Obi Ezeh or Jonas Mouton, except when the coaches got so fed up with those guys they put Fitz in (after they tried Kevin Leach). He did see some starting time at OLB late last year due to injuries, but has since been passed by the likes of Ryan and the freshmen. An academic All-American, Fitz will graduate with a degree in sport management.
"Physical's how we like it." (half of this guy's quotes can be taken out of context, the other half are about his family).
Until 2011, Kevin Koger (not Kroger) was the last head-to-head recruiting battle with [glances around, whispers] you know who in Ohio that Michigan actually won. Brian said he was Carson Butler minus the attitude and projected a future move to defensive end. Damn right about the attitude – Koger is a 2011 team captain and the Ryan Van Bergen of the offense.
Koger raised the hype meter a bit by scoring that TD versus Wisconsin in his first career catch, and then hauling in a one-handed flying stab in garbage time versus WMU in '09 that was more entertaining than Coner throwing D.O.'s to walk-on receivers with Mets' last names. This year he made another ridiculous catch over the middle versus Western. Koger's production on the field hasn't changed much from sharing time with Webb in 2010 (14 catches for 199 yards and 2 TDs) to being the guy in Borges's offense (17 catches for 195 yards and 3 TDs). Blocking Purdue's DEs (at top of screen, blocking 49) was a lot of fun.
In parts of the internet where trite metaphors are allowed, the phrase "Mike Martin is a beast!!!" is stated repeatedly, the number of exclamation marks varying from one to however many it takes to break a keyboard depending on how many yards backwards the poor sap charged with blocking him traveled before reestablishing radio contact. In less savage parts of the internet, people made things like this:
all the time. You can even put him in a micro fleece Balaclava and put Greg Robinson behind him (below) and he still looks like he's about to kill a quarterback any second. So of course Michigan put him in a micro fleece Balaclava and put Greg Robinson behind him. He was still the best player on the defense once Brandon Graham left; actually he beat out Graham for Michigan's '09 DL award.
A late-blooming prospect, Martin got his offer in June after Georgia DT Omar Hunter turned Michigan down. He committed immediately, and remained committed when a flood of others, including ND, came in after the coaching change. Martin arrived able to bench press like NFL first rounders, and ESPN said he looks like a crab.*
He immediately entered the DT rotation with Taylor and Johnson, and then spent the rest of his career here as a nose tackle because Michigan didn't have any other guys on the interior who could demand double teams. GERG's great idea to utilize Martin was to make him the centerpiece of 3-man rushes. After his junior year, Martin's personal accomplishments matched those of Alan Branch, with a far worse supporting cast.
*I think when people say "crab" what they mean is pad level. From now on when I hear "crab" I will declare that prospect someone Michigan must get. I want an entire DL that consists of nothing but crab people who squat 520 and chase QBs like they're Shawn Crable.
Despite having NFL prospects, despite a new coach and staff again again, he stayed. He said:
"‘What are we going to do as a team? Where are we now? We can either not be all in and do what we need to do, or we can work hard together and make sure we’re successful.’ ”
Hoke was also in the room. He remembered Robinson being upset at the media speculating his departure. He remembered fifth-year senior center David Molk getting up in that same meeting and telling everybody the team was going to stick together. …
“When (Robinson) came to us, he was addressing that we as a group — including him — need to make sure that none of the younger guys have doubtful thoughts or might want to stray away,” Martin said. “We didn't want there to be a repeat of last time there was a transfer of a coach.”
Tomorrow: Those Who Stayed (the Class of '07):