The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 119 BY ANDY REID I n the weeks leading up to the Michigan football team's spring practice period this offseason, Keith Heitzman received a text message that gave him a small jolt: "Coach Hoke needs to see you in his office." Not knowing what Brady Hoke, now enter- ing his fourth year as the Wolverines' head coach, wanted from him, Heitzman headed for Schembechler Hall. Luckily, another text quickly followed, one that eased Heitzman's mind a little: "Don't worry. You're not in trou- ble or anything." Heitzman, a redshirt junior, appeared in 23 games at defensive end in the last two sea- sons, including seven starts last year. He made his career debut against Alabama in the 2012 season opener, and in two seasons he tallied a combined 15 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. Although he had been assured that he was not on his way toward a punishment when he sat down with Hoke this offseason, Heitzman still had no idea what he was in for. "When Coach Hoke told me, I didn't know if he was messing with me or what," Heitzman said. "It seemed like it was out of nowhere, really. We were talking for a little bit, and then he mentioned the idea of a position change. At first, I was bummed out, because I thought that meant a move inside, to defensive tackle, and that I would have to gain 30 more pounds and really bulk up." When Heitzman arrived in Ann Arbor be- fore the 2011 season, he checked in at 6-3, 251. Last season, he played at 280 pounds. He had gotten there by following the dietary regimen of former Michigan defensive end Craig Roh (2009-12), his mentor during his first two years in Ann Arbor, who had gained more than 40 pounds himself in his four years with the program. The idea of ramping up his already hefty food routine in order to hop down to defensive tackle gave Heitzman plenty of apprehension. But it didn't last long. "Then Coach Hoke brought up tight end, and there was an awkward silence, like I was waiting for the punch line or something," Heitzman said. "He mentioned that he wanted to bring a physical mentality to the position, especially because there are a lot of young guys at tight end and along the offensive line. That was his main reason. "He said he had sat down with [defensive coordinator Greg Mattison] and the offensive coaches, and they had all agreed to pick me because I could bring some toughness and leadership to the position." And, just like that, the Wolverines had a new tight end. Getting His Start Growing up in Hilliard, Ohio, Heitzman was an avid soccer player through elementary school. By the time he got to seventh grade, however, when it was becoming clear he was going to be much bigger than your average soccer player, he began to reconsider that par- ticular extracurricular activity. "I was outgrowing soccer, physically," Heitzman said. "Running 10 miles a day started to get pretty hard. I was like a foot taller than anyone else on the team, and I was still getting bigger. My brother, Daniel, pushed me into football, kind of. He said, 'You're way too big to be playing soccer. You need to man up and play some football.'" Daniel, a rugby player by trade, was right — Heitzman was a stud defensive end and tight end as soon as he stepped on the field. "The first year I played, it was so fun to just hit someone," Heitzman said. "I played both ways throughout middle school and high school. In soccer, I was decent, but I wasn't the guy. I was good at football, right away, and it felt really good to be able to have a positive impact on a team." Heitzman started both ways at Davidson High School, but his true passion was defense, where he won The Columbus Dispatch's De- fensive Player of the Year award and earned first-team all-state honors as senior. On offense, Heitzman played tight end in a triple-option system that rarely put the ball in the air. But he did manage to get his hands on the ball a few times, scoring three touchdowns in his career. "It was pretty comical when they threw to me, back in high school," Heitzman said. "I was primarily a defensive end, and I was a big guy, and we never passed the ball much. When I got in the end zone, it was a laughing moment for a lot of the guys on the team, but it definitely felt great." Although Heitzman was doing big things on the football field, he didn't even consider the possibility that he could play at the next level, until Toledo offered him a scholarship during his junior year. "It never came to my mind that I could go to college for free, and then I started getting attention," he said. "At first, I was really stress- ing on the academic side of it. I committed to Vanderbilt pretty early, because they have such a strong academic reputation, but I had always thought it would be really cool to play in the Big Ten. I visited Illinois and had talked to their coaches about committing. "The day after that conversation, Michigan offered me, and this was pretty late in my senior year. That combined everything I was looking for: big-time school, great academics, SWITCHING IT UP Keith Heitzman Is Hoping A Change From Defensive End To Tight End Will Pay Dividends Heitzman appeared in 23 games and made seven starts as a defensive lineman the past two seasons, and he posted 15 tackles (1.5 for loss). PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL "I want to be the starting tight end and the guy that people go to. I want to be a threat, and I want to be able to help the team in a positive way." HEITZMAN 118-121.Keith Heitzman.indd 119 6/19/14 2:55 PM

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