The Wolverine

Sept 2023

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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8 THE WOLVERINE ❱ SEPTEMBER 2023 J ake Butt saw it coming, like a freight train heading for an abandoned scar- let-and-gray motor coach stalled on the tracks. He waited seven years for impact, but talk about worth the wait. The broadside BOOM brought Michi- gan football fans to tears. For the former All-America Wolverine tight end, U-M's Buckeye buster in 2021 — and the sub- sequent caning in Columbus a year later — served as confirmation. These days, Butt calls 'em as he sees 'em for the Big Ten Network, including Jim Harbaugh's juggernaut. He remembers the exact moment he witnessed the Wolverines arrive back with a vengeance. Buckeye defensive back Cameron Brown tears off senior wideout Roman Wilson's helmet in The Big House. A host of Michigan offensive linemen stand shoulder to shoulder and back Brown down, like elephants menacing a cower- ing hyena. Not today. Not here. Not now. Not for the foreseeable future. The misery is over. "I was in the stands, and I just remem- ber this buzz, sitting there," Butt recalled. "Everyone's like, what's going to go on? "You see the big offensive linemen run over, like Get off my dude. Then they rip their helmets off and they come, and I'm like, OK. That's a big moment. I'm looking to see how they responded. They embraced it, and clearly were ready for that big moment. It's like, these guys have taken a step forward." They forced the Buckeyes to take a step back. A year later — after 364 days of re- venge blather — they forced the Buckeyes to take a bare-butted hickory switching over the final 30 minutes. So, 2021 was a fluke, you say? Bend over. The Buckeyes bent. The Buckeyes broke. Now the door to everything Michi- gan desires stands open. Butt got in on the ground floor. He played his final two seasons in Harbaugh's first two at Michigan. The native Ohioan lived through the agonizing almost in Columbus his final year, when J.T. was short and home crowd intimidation long. Even then, Butt knew times were changing. Ohio State remained a major threat, but Toledo didn't. "Remember what Jim Harbaugh in- herited," Butt offered. "There wasn't na- tional respect. Teams were coming into The Big House and kicking our ass on our home field — teams that, historically, we shouldn't lose to. So, by some measures, failure. By other measures, success. Jim had to be hard on us as players back then." Now, the steel-spined Wolverines are hard on everyone, including Ohio State. Butt witnessed a change not only in Michigan football players, but perhaps in the coach himself. "These past two years — particularly after the COVID season — it seemed like Jim just took a trust fall," Butt opined. "He wasn't necessarily loose, but he trusted himself a little bit more. Trusted his staff a little bit more. Put more trust into the players, and the players carried the torch of the trust that was given. That's the im- portant piece. "Guys like Aidan Hutchinson — lead- ership matters. It cannot be overstated when you have a team where your best player is your hardest worker, is your best leader. A guy like Cade McNamara. "Back against the wall, no one gave him credit, no one was talking about him. He certainly wasn't a Heisman candidate, but he did everything right. He made all the necessary plays to beat Ohio State and to win the Big Ten championship." He's witnessed the dramatic change up close. "Our first two years, we didn't have the right, in 2015 or 2016, for anyone outside of Ann Arbor to believe in us," Butt ac- knowledged. "It wasn't our identity. We hadn't proven it yet. "Now, it's the identity. Everyone should believe in Michigan, because they've proven it. That locker room should believe in themselves, because they've proven it. "The conversation has completely changed. Those guys are talking with hunger, saying 'We want to win a national championship. We believe we're capable of doing that.' And they can say that with a serious look on their faces." If Michigan plays TCU 10 times, it wins nine, Butt insisted. It doesn't matter now. What matters involves the response. "Do you throw in the towel and say, 'Man, that was our chance, we should have had it,' and take a step back?" Butt mused. "Or, do you do what I'm hearing from these guys and say, 'Hey, man, we're not letting that happen again.' "It seems like those guys are allowing a tough situation — where they had it in the palm of their hands and let it get away — to propel their team to new heights this year. "It's been a while where Michigan fans could sit here and say, 'We know who our guy is at quarterback, and he's a stud. He's a star, and a Heisman candidate, and a great leader and a great ambassador for the program.' There's something to be said about that." That train whistle isn't distant any- more. ❏ WOLVERINE WATCH ❱ JOHN BORTON The Conversation Has Changed Coach Jim Harbaugh has engineered Michigan's resurgence as a national power, placing trust in his players. This year's team is confidently chas- ing a third consecutive Big Ten championship and a national title. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on X @JB_Wolverine.

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