The Wolverine

February 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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74 THE WOLVERINE FEBRUARY 2020 F or years, Michigan football was built on Bo Schembechler's "The Team, The Team, The Team" foundation, with the promise that team accomplishments would not only lead to cham- pionships, but individual suc- cess would follow. "You'll never play for any- thing that's 'The Team' again," Schembechler said in his now famous early-1980s pregame speech. "You'll play for a con- tract … you'll play for every- thing but the team." Minus a hiccup or two in the mid-1990s, that blueprint sustained for nearly 40 years, through Gary Moeller's and Lloyd Carr's tenures. Instead of being in a hurry to go pro, elite, can't-miss talents like Tyrone Wheatley, Braylon Edwards and Jake Long all opted to come back for their last seasons in Ann Arbor, noting they just didn't want to leave. The few who did were either Heis- man winners (Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson) or future NFL Hall of Famers like Ty Law who expressed the need to help his family. Several years, a transfer portal and another generation of entitle- ment later, early entries have become commonplace. If a player doesn't start in his first year, there's pressure from those close to them to bail for 'greener pastures,' where there's less competition and guaranteed playing time, no matter how much work they put in. Others seem to bide their time waiting for a contract, having lost sight of why they committed to their school of choice in the first place. "It seems like more and more the perception is that college, they're just doing their time, their three years until they're draft eligible," former Michigan All-American lineman Jon Jansen said. "There are more and more kids leaving that I think could benefit from another year. "The point isn't anymore to gradu- ate and win championships — it's to compile enough stats or whatever they think the NFL is looking for so they can be coveted when they're draft eligible." We're not talking just Michigan, of course (though the case can be made for a handful or so over the last five years alone). It's been the trend around the country, and it's disheart- ening watching the college game re- semble the pro game more and more every year. This year alone, junior Donovan- Peoples-Jones, a former five-star wide receiver, will head to the NFL after a season in which he caught 34 passes for only 438 yards. Another of U-M's projected pros, Tarik Black, was in such a hurry to transfer he had his locker cleaned out before bowl game practices. It might seem unfair to say his heart wasn't in it this season, but as they say, "The film don't lie." The balance coaches face anymore — at least those whose teams aren't one of the five or six playing "The Game" and vying for national cham- pionships year in and year out — is to convince their future pros that any sacrifice they make will mean something to them individually, and to weed out those who don't seem to get it. It's harder than ever, and it's why they get the big bucks. "You've got to try and get as much out of them as you can in the three or four years at your school — try and sell them on the benefits of being part of a championship team," said Jan- sen, who came back for his fifth year after helping U-M win the national championship in 1997. "You've got to try to find a way to convince those guys to stay on campus. Recruiting doesn't stop after you get a kid on campus. You've got to try to get them to stick around and win titles, convince them a rising tide raises all boats. "Look at all of the kids coming out of LSU this year. Look at all of the guys on our 1997 team. A lot of guys that wouldn't have been drafted got drafted, and some guys were drafted higher than they would have been coming off a great season." Twenty-five kids who started a game on the 1997 team played in the NFL, an astounding number. Former Michigan offensive lineman Doug Skene (1988-92) noted that Pro Foot- ball Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells was so impressed with the Michigan guys he did whatever he could to get more of them on his team. Parcells once reported how he'd get the three or four he usually had on his team to sing "The Victors" in front of the rest of the team. "Those Michigan guys have a lot of pride," he marveled. Jansen said elite NFL head coach Marty Schottenheimer was the same way. Those programs only work, though, with those who are all about team first. There are still plenty of those guys out there — sophomore wide receiver Ronnie Bell comes to mind — and if U-M is going to get back on top, it's going to take a roster full of them … which is not as easy as it used to be. ❑ Chris Balas has been with The Wolver- ine since 1997, working part time for five years before joining the staff full time in 2002. Contact him at cbalas@ thewolverine.com and follow him on Twitter @Balas_Wolverine. INSIDE MICHIGAN   CHRIS BALAS Those Who Stay (And Buy In) … Bo Schembechler always preached "The Team, The Team, The Team," a mantra not found in today's college football with early departures, a transfer portal and prevalent entitlement. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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