The Wolverine

September 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 48 of 51

SEPTEMBER 2020 THE WOLVERINE 49 " T hose who stay will be champions." Michigan wide receiver Nico Collins, defen- sive end Kwity Paye and cor- nerback Ambry Thomas had heard and seen these words repeatedly the past three years. Over and over again. These words form the iconic motto of the Wolverines. They have echoed through the halls of Michigan football for more than a half-century since Bo Schembechler arrived in Ann Arbor as the new head coach in 1969. Some may not take the phrase seriously, but these words have resonated with scores of players who devoted themselves to the program and left as champions. Collins, Paye and Thomas breathed these words, and chose to live by them. They are all seniors, and each had the opportunity to forgo their 2020 season as a Wolverine. They could have declared for the 2020 NFL Draft, and they likely would have been selected because they are projected to be picked by day two (rounds two and three) in 2021. Instead, they chose to return to Michigan for a final shot at, after three years of coming up short, finally beating Ohio State and winning the Big Ten title. Except they will no longer get that shot in 2020. On Aug. 11, the Big Ten announced that it was postponing the 2020-21 fall sports season due to ongoing health and safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. There will be no Big Ten football this fall, and for various reasons, the odds a sea- son is played in the spring are slim. Although the conference's decision to cancel the fall sports season is un- derstandable, albeit controversial, it is unfortunate for all the Wolverines that had spent the offseason tirelessly training, developing their skills, hon- ing their craft and practicing safe social distancing to maximize their chances to compete. They made several sacrifices so that they could try to don their maize-and-blue uni- forms, put on the winged helmet and play college football this season. But Collins, Paye and Thomas sac- rificed more than their teammates. Unlike their teammates, that trio easily could be playing professional football right now. They could have declared for the 2020 NFL Draft, likely would have been selected and would be preparing for the upcom- ing NFL season, which is still slated to be played and has a much better chance of being completed than col- lege football. And most importantly, they could be getting paid to do so. However, Collins, Paye and Thomas left all that on the table when it was not necessary. Collins did not need another sea- son to prove that he is the best wide- out at Michigan and a tantalizing NFL prospect. He has the size at 6-4, body control and jump-ball ability to be a deep-ball threat at the next level. He averaged 19.7 yards per recep- tion, which was second in the Big Ten, and his total numbers would have been even better if defenders were not desperate to commit pass interference against him rather than allow Collins to box them out down the field for a chunk of yards. Paye also did not need another collegiate season to showcase that he can be a steady defender on the edge. With his strength and athleti- cism, he was one of the best run defenders at his position in the Big Ten last season. He used his power to set the edge for Michigan's defense and force opposing running backs into bad decisions. He also was a better pass rusher than he was credited for, after he generated 37 pressures and came close to adding more to his 6.5-sack total last year. Likewise, Thomas did not need another season to demonstrate that he can be a lockdown corner. During his junior season, he was one of the best at his position in the Big Ten. He tied for the third- highest overall Pro Football Focus grade (80.8) among the conference's corners, and he was just a sliver behind Ohio State's Jeff Oku- dah, who was the third overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, and Iowa's Michael Ojemudia, who was taken in the third round, for the top spot. All three Wolverines spurned a year of NFL salary when they have limited time to make money playing the sport that they love so that they could lead this Michigan team. They should have been rewarded for their decisions. They should've had the opportunity to see what would have happened this fall after fully devoting themselves to Michi- gan one final season. They decided to stay, and they be- lieved they would be champions. But instead, there will be no play and no pay. It is unfair. They likely will not leave as champions presuming they now de- clare for the 2021 NFL Draft. But they wanted to be. Badly. They believed in Michigan. And that should be appreciated. ❑ INSIDE THE NUMBERS   DREW HALLETT Those Who Stayed May Not Play Staff writer Drew Hallett has covered Michigan athletics since 2013. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @DrewCHallett. Senior cornerback Ambry Thomas was among those that bypassed the 2020 NFL Draft for a final shot at beating Ohio State and win- ning the Big Ten — but it's entirely possible he will never wear a winged helmet again. PHOTO BY BRANDON BROWN

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