Michigan Football Preview 2019

Digital Edition

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 99 of 179

98 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2019 FOOTBALL PREVIEW BY CHRIS BALAS O ne of the realities top prep football players face when they first arrive on campus to join elite programs is that they are no longer the big man on campus. Player after player over the years has recounted the first time taking the field and putting on a winged helmet, re- calling how hard it was to make a name for themselves among a plethora of high school All-Americans just as talented as them. Redshirt junior Devin Gil is one who's waited patiently for his turn to stand out, and his challenge has been unique. For years, he's played in the shadow of a former team- mate who just so happened to share his posi- tion and his first name in Devin Bush Jr., having played linebacker alongside him at Pembroke Pines (Fla.) Flanagan. Those two along with Michigan senior safety Josh Metellus were the three amigos, heading north with high hopes and ready to make their mark in a completely new envi- ronment. They leaned on each other, kept one another focused and shared the same dreams. "Ever since high school, we weren't those type of guys who go out, party, all that stuff," Metellus told reporters in Pittsburgh after Bush got drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in April. "We were the type of people to just sit at home, a group of guys who were really close and would just talk, listen to music, have fun appreciating each other's time." No jealousy, no hard feelings — nothing but support. For the first time since 2011, the trio won't be lining up together on the same field. Bush is an NFL rookie now, leaving Gil and his former teammates to try to compensate for the loss of a two-time All-American and one of the most dynamic linebackers Michigan has ever seen. Gil, frankly put, isn't the athlete Bush is, something he understands and accepts. But he's got his own goals, and watching his football family set the bar again is anything but bittersweet. "I want the best for my brother. That's what his decision was," he said of Bush. "It's like a happy feeling since I grew up with him since we were little, and being here with Josh and him brought more confidence out in myself. "It made me strive to get to the same level as him, maybe be even better." That's not his primary goal, however. One thing he's learned over the years playing first for Bush's father, Devin Sr., at Pem- broke Pines and then for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan is that the team comes first. Bush Jr. reminded him of that with one piece of advice before he left for the Steel City. "He said, 'Play for something more for yourself,'" Gil recalled. At the same time, Gil's anxious to show what he and his teammates can do without the All-American in the middle wreaking havoc. There are still capable guys returning, and they're about to get their chance to prove it. "People didn't really know [about us]," he said. "They're going to find out soon." Ready For Impact But it's not as though Gil's been the invis- ible man since he arrived on campus. He's been a key cog on two elite defenses, in fact, making strides each year and earning more and more playing time. The 6-1, 231-pounder now enters his fourth year as a seasoned veteran. He played in all 13 games in 2017, seeing action pri- marily on special teams in addition to five appearances at linebacker. He started all 13 contests at weakside linebacker a year ago, next to Bush, and notched 33 tackles, 3.5 stops for loss and 1.5 sacks. Playing faster will be one of his goals in 2019, and that means more than just raw speed. Watching Bush, Gil saw a guy who knew where to be on the field at all times — that he happened to have elite speed was a bonus. "Confident. No hesitation," Gil said when asked to describe his friend's playing style. "You see it when he plays." Though a hamstring injury suffered in a Peach Bowl loss to Florida limited him, cost- ing him the second half and forcing him to rest during the first part of winter condition- ing, Gil started to show many of those traits in the spring. By April he'd become one of the depend- able players on a defense with many new faces. He didn't quite earn defensive coor- dinator Don Brown's "dude" status reserved for the best of the best, but he was climbing the charts. "Devin Gil might be the most improved guy, body-wise, speed-wise," Brown said in late spring. "He's getting through by helping his football team by being a steady-Eddie, classic guy that knows what to do. "Now, he's playing at a higher level." Gil's demanding it of the younger players too. Underclassmen Jordan Anthony and Cameron McGrone might well have their numbers called this year to join veterans Gil, Josh Ross, Khaleke Hudson, Josh Uche and Jordan Glasgow — and Gil is doing his part to prepare them. It takes a village, after all, to replace last year's Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. "It's a little different [without Bush], but we hold ourselves to a higher standard and a high expectation," Gil said. "We all know what we expect from each other. "I feel like we all stand out as a whole … knowing we lost Devin Bush, even though he went on to better things. We know we've got to hold ourselves to a higher standard." Gil's credits his own experience on the field with raising his confidence, but he knows being around Bush for as long as he was probably doesn't hurt either. He's come a long way, and while his teammates and coaches see it, he actually feels it. "My quickness, seeing plays, recogniz- ing plays faster," Gil said. "Throughout this spring, with this new offense, that's helped me a lot in my game. "I'm more confident, more comfortable and more experienced. That's all I can really ask for." New Tutor Gil credits one man in particular — first- year linebackers coach Anthony Campanile — for helping him reach another level. Cam- panile was brought in when former assistant Al Washington defected to take an assistant coaching job at Ohio State. Gil started all 13 games last year, 12 of them next to Bush, his friend and former teammate at Pembroke Pines (Fla.) Flanagan who left a year early for the NFL after earning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2018. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL NEXT DEVIN UP Devin Gil Is Ready To Shine In Devin Bush's Absence

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