The Wolverine

2020 Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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78 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW BY CHRIS BALAS L ast year at this time, Michigan's right tackle position was a huge question mark. Youngsters Andrew Stueber and Jalen Mayfield were battling for the right to start alongside four veterans with NFL aspirations, and many watching from afar figured it would be the weak link up front no matter who won the job. Football, though, is as unpredictable as May weather in Michigan. Stueber tore his ACL late in fall camp, essentially opening the door for Mayfield and making it a one- man competition. To his credit, the then-red- shirt freshman continued to work as though he were auditioning. When veteran left tackle Jon Runyan Jr. was sidelined with a back injury early on, Mayfield found himself as part of a first-year starting tackle tandem with redshirt fresh- man Ryan Hayes manning the left side for the first two games. It was "only" Middle Tennessee State in the opener, but the butterflies were churning. "There were definitely some nerves," Mayfield recalled with a chuckle. It was his first start, after all, and he had received just 37 snaps of collegiate expe- rience while redshirting his first year on campus. Unsurprisingly, it would be several weeks before the game really slowed down for him. When it did, his game — and his confi- dence — took a huge leap. "I think the game that really solidified me as getting comfortable with the offense was Penn State," he recalled of the 28-21 loss in Happy Valley Oct. 19. "We had played well, but I was still second guessing myself a lot, questioning what I was supposed to do, how I was going to get it down. "At Penn State, I cut everything out of my mind and just played football." That was the turning point for Mayfield, and subsequently the entire offense. Senior quarterback Shea Patterson started to get comfortable himself, and the line was out- standing from left to right while the Wolver- ines ripped off four straight blowout wins. It started a week later against Notre Dame, a 45-14 thrashing in which one of the last- ing memories was Mayfield bulldozing a defender into the end zone from a few yards out to help pave the way for freshman run- ning back Zach Charbonnet's touchdown. Mayfield jumped from the scrum, threw a fist in the air and let out a scream that could be heard through the thunderous rain echo- ing through the Michigan Stadium bleachers all the way to row 91. The redshirt freshman hadn't completely arrived, but he was well on his way. Waiting His Turn The beginning of it all, though, was bitter- sweet. Mayfield and Stueber went back and forth through spring and fall in a too-close- to-call competition that would have given the 2000 Presidential Election a run for its money on the nail-biter scale. One week, offensive line coach Ed Warinner would say Stueber had made a move; the next, May- field had edged ahead. What kept Mayfield going through the battle was the thought of another year with- out football. He'd played both ways for years at Grand Rapids (Mich.) Catholic Central, barely missing a play. He played mostly spectator in 2018 as a true freshman, ap- pearing in only three games, not unusual for a lineman but still discouraging. "It was really hard having to sit on the sideline every game. It really makes you think about football and if it's for you," May- field admitted. "But I think it pushed me even harder to work on my craft, both during the season and in the offseason, to become the player I am today. "It's definitely a challenge when you're not playing, but if you can get through it you realize your time is soon to be coming." It helped to have supportive teammates as well. In Runyan and fellow starters Ben Bredeson, Cesar Ruiz and Michael On- wenu, Mayfield found four big brothers who pushed him to keep going. "It's unbelievable the character in those ON THE RISE Redshirt Sophomore Tackle Jalen Mayfield Could Be One Of The Big Ten's Best Mayfield put himself on everybody's radar after playing a key role in holding Ohio State star Chase Young, the eventual No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft, to zero tackles in last season's game. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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