The Wolverine

October 2016

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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26 THE WOLVERINE OCTOBER 2016 BY CHRIS BALAS F ormer Michigan head coach Bo Schembechler had a theory about recruiting. One-third of a class would exceed expec- tations, he would say, another third would contribute in some capacity and the others would flame out. What he never said is, "We expect most of our freshmen to contribute in their first years." College football has changed since Schembechler roamed the sideline, and it's been on display in head coach Jim Harbaugh's second year. More than a handful of freshmen were expected to play, Harbaugh reported before the season opener, and the number just continued to grow. "It's been coming for weeks now … really the last two or three weeks you would say," he said following the opener with Hawai'i, a 63-3 win. "Three weeks ago you could see seven or eight that had really earned it and knew they were going to be tracking to be in the two deep. Less than a week later it was up to 10. Then another week it was up again, and up again. "It will be 17 to 20 when it's all said and done the way it's going now. They've earned it." The rookie contributions have var- ied from week to week, but two in particular have stood out in the early going — defensive end Rashan Gary, who is living up to his billing as the nation's consensus No. 1 recruit, and the understated Chris Evans. The lat- ter, a former three-star running back out of Indianapolis, is the lone frosh in the four-man rotation at tailback and started his season with 112 yards rush- ing and two touchdowns against the Rainbow Warriors. "I knew Chris Evans was special. What you saw today is what we've been seeing in practice for the last month," Harbaugh said after the win. "He's a special football player. You didn't even really get to see every- thing he can do. He catches the ball out of the backfield, can line up as a receiver … you'll see that at times in the near future. Both as a punt and kick returner, he's a very special player. "I expect big things going forward. He really can do everything you want a back to do. He blocks, runs the ball between the tackles, can run it on the edge … he's a very good contributor on special teams, as well." Running backs coach Tyrone Wheat- ley called Evans his "Steph Curry in the room," referring to the Golden State Warriors standout point guard and NBA MVP. "Meaning that he can create his own space," Wheatley explained. "One on one, he can win. Most surprisingly, I didn't realize how tough he was be- tween the tackles. That was one of my things — how could he run between tackles, how was his toughness and strength? He doesn't look it, but he is surprisingly strong. "A guy with that type of mixture and strength and being able to make guys miss is a huge deal. [Senior] De'Veon [Smith] makes guys miss breaking tackles. Chris can actually make the separation. Once he creates the separa- tion, he has the speed to pull away. "Those are things I'm excited about. He's a Danny Delight to watch. I like that guy." He's also extremely humble. Evans said during the recruiting process he was honored Harbaugh thought he was good enough to play at a place like Michigan. He admitted having doubts, even at the beginning of camp. "I was nervous. I didn't know if I could do this," Evans said after his big game. "I was under the radar. I was questioning: 'Should I be here? Is this the place for me?' Before foot- ball started, people were hyped about Rashan and other guys, and I was sort of in the back just chilling. "No one really knew me." That changed in a couple of days. "From the first day of camp, he was making plays. I didn't know much about him. I knew he was from Indi- ana," Michigan redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight said. "But after two days of training camp, we all knew who Chris Evans was." Gary, meanwhile, notched three tack- les in the opener and picked up his first sack a week later in the 51-14 win over Central Florida. He'd been playing strongside end in his first two games but replaced redshirt sophomore Chase Winovich at weakside end when the Wolverines were struggling in an even- tual 45-28 win over Colorado Sept. 17. He dominated at times while rack- ing up four tackles (1.5 for loss) and two quarterback hurries, one on third down that forced a bad throw when he hit the quarterback's arm. The product of Paramus (N.J.) Cath- olic thoroughly enjoyed his first game in The Big House. "When I made my first tackle and they said 'Rashan Gary' over the [pub- lic address speakers], it was one of the greatest feelings I've ever felt," Gary said, noting he heard the fans react to the announcement as well. "It was the best feeling I ever had. I never played in front of so many peo- ple with so much energy. It was better than what I imagined." Gary admitted being nervous before his first game. He entered in the fourth series. "When I first got out there I was thinking about the play call, because it's loud and hard to even hear it," Gary said. "Once I started picking up the play call and tuning out the crowd, things started coming easier." The rookie's presence was notice- able, fifth-year senior nose tackle Ryan Glasgow noted. "I thought he played fast, that's the biggest thing I know," Glasgow said. "A true freshman in his first game … that could be one of the things where you stand still because it's surreal. He took it head on and played well." He met defensive coordinator Don Brown's expectations, as well. Brown Freshman Influx Eighteen Of U-M's First-Year Scholarship Players Have Contributed To U-M's Early Success Rookie defensive end Rashan Gary has lived up to his status as the consensus No. 1 recruit, ranking fourth on the Wolverines with 3.5 tackles for loss and sixth with 13 total stops through three games. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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