Thank you for the insight into real champions.
(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.
Thank you for the insight into real champions.
"Brian cook eats crow." Be sure to tell us when he is right sometimes or else you will piss him off and he won't do the offense UFR.
I straight-up LOVE this column. Thanks!
that make me want to see Michigan absolutely curb stomp Ohio on Saturday - to put their boots on Buckeye nuts and not let up until the annihilation is complete.
Well, I should say, I always want to see that, only now more than ever.
...but of all of them it's Huyge who makes me be like dang.
It's implied by a lot that's been written here, but the thing that's made me most sympathetic to RR after he left is the fact that his guys, by and large, stayed and took over leadership like they should and more than we could reasonably expect. The contrast to three years ago in that department could hardly be bigger. I know he gets the "character issues" rap, possibly deserved, from his years at WV and a couple recruits he wanted even here, but I'm starting to think he at least wants to teach "his" kids character, and when he has good material to start with, the results are impressive. It will be interesting seeing what he does in Arizona.
Agreed...Huyge made me be like dang. The level of hard work and persistence that comes through in that description - always fighting for a spot, never giving up, coming from no respect to a contributor along with a very tough degree...dang. I'd hire him in a nanosecond if I could...he will crush it in whatever he does in life.
Seth- Thanks for mentioning the walk-ons. Regardless of the number of stars any of these guys had coming out of high school, they've all been through these arduous 5 years, and they deserve recognition for it. Excited for Part III.
Man, these are my favorite things to read. It makes you love the team even more and more.
Don't apologize for not being done. This is some legitimate good stuff. Great work.
if I could write. I am so happy to see these seniors getting some respect. I think Hoke needs to put that picture up in Schembechler Hall - these guys epitomize so many of the things that are Michigan Football.
Seth, you are poet, sir.
I have a soft spot for unsung heroes and these guys deserve to be remembered.
These are tremendous! Can't wait for the rest. #BeatOhio!
Having also made the bus ride to North Campus in dogged pursuit of a Michigan Engineering degree, I have nothing but the upmost of respect and sheer awe for Mark Huyge.
It's one story of many that earned our respect. Thanks for the great work to share it with us!
And to these seniors... WELL DONE GENTLEMEN! Your commitment and performance this year is A+ Michigan Man stuff. Go forth and pound some Buckeyes on Sarurday, and enjoy every blessed minute of it.
Can't wait to read the write up on these two. Fine Michigan men, whose leadership in the trenches has meant so much to this team
I'm going to read the rest, because you're an interesting guy and a really good writer. But I'm commenting here about Appy State 'destroying every shred of mysticism' the program had. First of all, I do not think that word means what you think it means. Unless somehow the Appy State game convinced us to give up on our tarot card readings.
But more importantly, Jesus you guys around here are dramatic about that fucking game. It was a big upset. It really sucked. I went for the angriest run of my life afterwards and honestly wanted to stop watching sports altogether in that moment. But if MGoBlog didn't come around to combine that loss with the narrative of the Declining Carr (which then melded into the narrative of Thwarted Rodriguez Promise) and give it that catchy name, it wouldn't seem like that big of a deal.
Does Alabama have any of their mystique these days? Yep. Sure does. We will too, once we, ya know, string a couple of these 'winning seasons' together.
yeah i should have used mystique not mysticism. W.c.
Louisiana-Monroe beat a bad Bama team. Michigan was a hot pick to win the N.C. And Michigan Stadium was always this place where no matter what team you are, you are walking in and you are going to get beaten. Other teams' players used to say stuff like that the week before they came. Then they didn't.
The McNabbing in '98 for me was just horrific -- I'd never before even imagined a team like Syracuse coming into Michigan Stadium and running all over us. The losses I knew were the kind where bought and paid refs let Desmond get tackled in the end zone before the part about the ball getting there occurred. That needed way more than a run to get over -- I can only imagine what seeing THAT your first game of freshman year must have been like.
I agree that Appy State represented a bigger bust in terms of coaching and preparation than the ULM win over Bama (just realized - I wonder how much mileage Auburn fans got out of the fact that ULM's mascot is the Warhawk.) The fact that we had a team with Chad Henne, Mike Hart, Jake Long, and Mario Manningham get beat at home by a 1-AA team is what made that suck so, so hard. But I would actually say that the fact that the Bama game was less of an upset - that it made far, far fewer headlines than Appy State - is a hell of a lot more indicative of a loss of mystique. No one shrugged their shoulders and said, 'well, yeah - that was a subpar Wolverines outfit that year; I'm not too surprised.'
That's not to say that losing at home to a I-AA team was no big deal, but I think the next three years were imperative in making that loss of mystique loom so large. Another way to look at it is that ULM became just ULM (at least nationally; maybe Bama blogs still treat it like radioactive waste, but my sense is that they're a little less angsty and emo than we are) because it became subsumed within the narrative of the transition to the Croatian Dwarf Crushing Machine. I'm pretty sure that if things end up as rosey as we all hope with Hoke, Appy State will eventually become part of a more generic time of tumult and transition - which is, I would suggest, where it belongs in our imaginary.
Remember that bone-chilling, rainy, crappy ass day when Henne's shoulder was so bad he couldn't throw so much as a Sheridan duck, and Hart's ankle was destroyed? Say we beat Ohio State that day. Michigan would have gone to the Rose Bowl. That class would have gotten the win over Ohio State they so richly deserved. So much justice would have been served.
But at no time during that game, as much as I wanted it (and I wanted it so so so bad), did I really feel like Michigan could wipe away the stink of the Horror with a win. Even on that most shitty of shitty Michigan November days, the thing that started the season hung over the program like a pall. If we had won, Michigan would have been the Rose Bowl Team that Lost to a I-AA team, not "One of the Great Rose Bowl Teams of Michigan History." It was that big of a deal. The 2007 Michigan team beat some great football teams along the way, including 2008 champ Florida, but they're going to always be the team that lost to a I-AA team.
I don't count 2008 and App State as the same things. 2007 M lost to App State and 2008 M lost to everybody because of completely different things. I never thought 2008 Michigan came into a game unprepared. They were just bad personnel-wise and in the way only RR's transitional teams are, and (though I found this out only way way later) leadership-wise. App State wasn't a better team beating Michigan, but Michigan coasting on our laurels. It was a wakeup call on par with when the Big Three realized they couldn't just make huge, steel, gas-guzzling cars and expect everybody to buy them because they say Ford or Chrysler or GM on them. It's a separate thing.
That moment shattered many important things. For me, I had wrapped up much of my Michigan pride in Lloyd Carr. From about MSU '99 game until App State I had made myself one of the staunchest Carr guys in my circle. At that moment I could no longer say "Lloyd Carr is the right man to coach Michigan" and have it be anything but blind loyalty. I guess for that reason, which is not the same reason as other fans, that fucking thing will remain one of the most traumatizing sports moments of my life.
In 2008 we lost to a horrible Toledo team that we should have been able to beat with me at quarterback. Don't tell me we were always prepared that season.
You are also being dramatic. The history of Michigan football needs to be covered to understand where we are and where we are going.
if MGoBlog didn't come around to combine that loss with the narrative of the Declining Carr (which then melded into the narrative of Thwarted Rodriguez Promise) and give it that catchy name, it wouldn't seem like that big of a deal. "
No, it is and was a big deal. It was literally a historical first, you cannot dispute that. That's why sportswriters will never stop talking about it.
But sometimes I feel like you make things up. Heininger did not have any type of potential career in basketball. I'm not even sure if he played it in HS.
baseball. Did I say basketball above? [looks]. no, i said baseball, which is correct. Heininger was going to walk on the baseball team (preferred walk-on, but he was preferred in football too) and at the time his coaches told him he had a much better chance of earning a scholarship on the diamond than the gridiron. He chose football because he loved Michigan football.