alternate headline: man does job
Ace: Since Michigan just had a low-key Senior Day to send off Max Bielfeldt, this seems like a good time to ask: What's your favorite Senior Day memory? (Any sport may apply.)
Dave Nasternak: Back when I was in school—while Football was just starting its decade+ of beatdowns to OSU and Basketball was...well, it was pre-Beilein (mostly)- the place to be for sports in Ann Arbor was Yost. My Senior Day story(s) come from the Ice Hockey team. Hockey in the CCHA was weird. Not bad, but weird. If you were good enough -and Michigan generally was- you hosted a playoff series at home after the regular season had ended. So, while there was Senior Day, there was also Last Game At Yost Day. In the 06-07 year, TJ Hensick's Senior Day came super early.
|Guest starring Jeff Tambellini. Bork!|
It was February 3rd. It was the back end of a home-and-home against Western. Michigan won 3-1 but...it was relatively uneventful and everyone knew we'd see the seniors for one last series. They somehow managed to play 3 more series of road or neutral ice games before finally coming back to Yost for the CCHA Quarters. After disposing of Western in Game 1 of a best of 3, we knew Game 2 would be it.
It was really bittersweet for me. I was also a senior and while I hoped to get into Grad School at M, I thought it could be my last game at Yost, as well. TJ Hensick might have been my favorite M athlete when I was in school. He burst onto the scene as a freshman, leading the team in points. He would end up leading the Wolverines in scoring 3 of his 4 years, finishing 2nd in his sophomore year.
After his junior season, I'd read that Hensick was close to signing with the Avs, but decided to give it one more go at Yost. While the year didn't end up the way any Wolverine dreamed, Hensick had another phenomenal year. In his Last Game At Yost, Hensick didn't disappoint. He tallied 4 points, 3 of them being goals for his only career hatrick at home (I'm pretty sure). Michigan won very comfortably, 8-3. While Michigan has had a handful of great players since -Porter, Kolarik, Hagelin, Hunwick, now Hyman- there hasn't been another Mighty Mite center (especially with that kind of puck control) since. I taped Hensick's Last Game At Yost (on VHS!!) and later converted it to dvd. I still get a little choked up, watching it.
A season later, Kevin Porter's last series at Yost was also a weekend to remember, including The Day That Yost Changed. My bronze medalist might be Chris Perry's Senior Day, as I made it onto the field as a wide-eyed freshman...but I'll leave those games for someone else.
[Hit the JUMP for Swedish flags, the one that preceded Molly, and some non-hockey we swear]
Thoughts on your career as a Michigan quarterback?
“It means a lot. It means -- it’s hard to put into words what this means to me. Just being a leader on this team and being one of the guys that was picked by the team to be a captain and a leader. It’s kind of hard to swallow right now because it’s coming to an end.”
What have the past three weeks been like? When did you find out that you would be able to play today?
“I’ve been getting treatment a lot. They’ve been telling me a lot of this stuff, and I’ve just been getting treatment, and I’ve been day by day and been getting better. Once I got a chance to get the go-ahead, I went out and started practicing and started playing a lot.”
How desperately did you want to play in this last game? Did you have to lobby to get in the game?
“Oh no. I think everybody knew -- if they know me, they’d know I’d do whatever it takes for the team. I’m the kind of the person that if I go, I’m going to go. I’m not going to hold back because I do whatever my team [needs]. That’s my family.”
“It was a good game. A good football win. The seniors got to go up the tunnel singing The Victors for the last time in the stadium. We put a lot of emphasis on that because of the struggles and what they go through when you look at a guy who’s been here four or five years. So it was great for them and great for our team that the younger guys, younger classmen went out there and competed for them. That’s an expectation. The guys who are seniors who were playing in their last game at Michigan Stadium, I thought they did a nice job of going out there and playing 60 minutes of football.”
How bittersweet is it to see your seniors play at home for the last time?
“It’s always difficult because I’m a very emotional person, good or bad. So pick your poison. But we get very tight and close with the players because we are there to help them grow. From a personal life standpoint to an academic, to social, to everything else, they’re one of your sons, and that’s how we look at it.”
When did you make the decision for Denard to play, and when did you decide on his role?
“I didn’t make the decision for him to play. Once he got cleared, he felt good healthwise. We had talked about doing this for 18 months. You know, Al, when he got home last week after the Northwestern game, that night he had nine plays ready. And then we put six more in. I think Al does a tremendous job of taking your personnel and the playmakers that you have on your team and having the ability to get them the ball and let their god-given ability take over.”
How much do you know about Fitz’s situation?
“He’s in the hospital now and he’s had surgery. I think we’ll leave it at that for now and make sure -- his mother wasn’t here, he had two brothers here -- but we’ll leave it for that.”
How important was it to try out the Devin-Denard offense before the Ohio State game?
“You know, next week really never had anything to do with it. We had to beat Iowa. We’re still in a championship race. We wanted to win this game for our seniors and also because we’re still in a race for the championship.”
Was there any thought of using Denard as a passer or did you just decide to give him a limited role?
“Well, I think it would be unjust for us not to use him in the best way that we thought would let him be the most successful. He’s throwing the ball a little bit, not throwing it a lot, so we thought this was the best. This kid has put up with a lot of criticism at times and also he’s been praised at times --”
[Someone’s phone goes off, ring tone is “The Victors”]
“That’s a good song. He’s a competitive guy who loves the game and loves his teammates, and he showed great maturity the last three weeks and great leadership.”
Along those lines, did you have to do any convincing with Denard to tell him that he wouldn’t play quarterback?
“No … He wanted to play. Where could he help us best playing?”
Can he throw the ball?
“Yeah. But not as well as he’d like to.”
Can you talk about Denard and how hard it might be for a senior quarterback to not call plays in the huddle?
“Well, I think it tells you what kind of kid he is. What kind of a young man, I should say. And his development, his growth, his character, and the integrity -- this kid had some unbelievable moments here at Michigan and Michigan Stadium and have had some moments that weren’t so good, but he’s grown within this team, and this is his team. Him and Kovacs, all the seniors have a big piece of it, and I know that Devin said it the other day: he has been the face of Michigan football.”
Devin had six touchdowns…
“Say that again? I’m sorry.”
Devin had six touchdowns. They looked pretty easy for him. Can you tell us about his development?
“Um. He had six touchdowns?”
He had six touchdowns.
“Did he really. See, I don’t remember that stuff.”
He was pretty good.
“I -- well, I think you answered the question. He was pretty good.”
Did you hear the crowd chanting “Beat Ohio”?
“Yeah, and I said to someone next to me, ‘We need to beat Iowa.’ ”
You haven’t lost at home in two years. Is there something to that?
“I think there’s always, and you see it all kinds of sports, playing at home is something that’s treated us well. Familiarity with everything. I wish I could tell you. I just think there’s a comfort, I guess.”
Have your teams always been so much better at home?
“I have no clue. Again, it’s something that I don’t think about.”
Is this your offense moving forward, or could Denard move back to quarterback full time?
“Um … I don’t know. I guess he could. I don’t know. It’s an option.”
When was Denard cleared, and what did he have to do to get cleared? Can he grip the ball?
When was he cleared?
“What’s today? Saturday? Probably six days ago.”
Is he cleared for good now, or do you have to go through another process? Is he day to day?
“He might be day to day.”
You talked about being an emotional person. You’ve just beaten Iowa, but what does the Ohio State game mean to you?
“It’s fun. Because it’s a great rivalry and there’s a lot of respect on both sides for those programs. For both programs. It’s fun. You asked? It’s fun. It’s going to be fun.”
You had a lot of success in vertical passing. How come?
“I think some play action set it up. And then I think Gallon made a terrific catch with concentration. The ball was where it needed to be, and it was defended pretty decently. I think one of the best throws and catches was an out on the sideline to Roy. I thought Roy did a nice job with his hands. That’s one thing I said this last week, but I thought Roy is catching the ball more with his hands and not with his body as he had earlier.”
When did you see that change for him?
“Eh, shoot. I don’t know. Some time. Probably in practice.”
It looked like you threw out things for Ohio State to think about. Is that something you planned to do?
“If I was that smart to do that, I would have done that. But no, we were trying to beat Iowa. We were trying to put our players -- because it would be selfish of us as coaches for us not to give these kids the best chance to win a football game. And whatever we do offensively or defensively or prepare, if we don’t do that then we’re short-selling this program and these seniors and these kids, and we’re not going to do that.”
You said you’ve been planning this offense since 18 months ago. What prevented you from using it earlier?
“How would I answer this …”
“Um. I would say, in doing it, it would have been done kind of like we did last year a little bit more when we had both of them on the field. And we just added to it. And we just added to it. And there’s a maturity level for everybody to be able to handle those things.”
So do you mean Denard at quarterback and Devin at receiver?
“Maybe. Sort of.”
Synergy between Gardner and the receivers?
“Yeah, and I think there’s a lot of truth to all of that. But I think our front’s blocking better. Part of it is the play-action game. Part of it is the play-action out of the I-back. I think that’s helped.”
How tough is it for the defense to prepare for your new formations?
Well, you have to spend some time on it. So sometimes that’s the biggest thing. You’re spending time maybe on a formation that was run maybe three times and thinking, okay, what can you do out of it, what can they do out of it? So as a coach, you’re spending your time, and then you’re taking practice time. So it’s time. And there’s one thing none of us have, is a lot of time.”
How confident are you that your team can quickly move on to Ohio State?
“Well they’re going to have to. I’m pretty confident in how our seniors have led and how we’ve gone to work every Sunday, win and lose.”
“Yeah. You know … we missed some sacks. We don’t tackle. They’re knocking us off the line of scrimmage earlier. It was awful.”
“We thought he’d be ready, but he’s not.”
Gary Moeller was honored today --
“Yeah, it was cool.”
What did that mean to you?
“Means a lot. Coach Mo as a person, as a coach, as a man. Means a lot. Means a lot to Michigan.”
- If Denard were a rapper his stage name would be Day2Day.
- Hoke says decision on Denard's status for Saturday will be made based on health, not sentiment.
- Mario Ojemudia is "coming along," which probably means he won't be ready for Saturday.
- Will Campbell "probably played his best football game" against Northwestern.
- Hoke did think about going for a touchdown instead of a field goal at the end of regulation but decided not to.
Whether Denard could play situationally even if he were unable to throw the ball is something Hoke may consider.(What does that even mean. Aye aye aye.) Take two: Hoke will talk to Denard about playing situationally or as a runner if he remains unable to throw the ball on Saturday. Maybe.
How are you doing?
“Better than the alternative.”
“Really proud of our football team. I’m proud of how they stuck together. I think I mentioned, I may not have -- they really stuck together the whole game. They believed in each other, believed in what we were trying to get accomplished. I thought there were some really smart decisions made by players and by some of the guys on the staff when the two returners at the end of the game on the punt, because of the way they tried to punt the ball, Gallon was able to get some real positive yardage and set up being able to get the ball to whatever yard line it was to try for the field goal to tie it. If you have one returner back and that ball bounces, you lose field position and those things. Kids executed it well.
“This week’s a special week. Number one, our seniors. Last time they get to play in the greatest stadium in this country. Get to wear that blue jersey here at home and so it’s really special for us as coaches and for those underclassmen who go out and play well. Iowa, as you know, they’re a very good football team. They’ve lost the last two games I think by a total of six points. Run the football well. I think they’ve had some nicked up people when you look at it earlier in the year, but I think they’re really coming together. James Vandenberg, I think, is a very good quarterback. We’ve got our work cut out for us, and we have a lot to do.”