The Wolverine

November 2016

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 22 of 83

NOVEMBER 2016 THE WOLVERINE 23 BY JOHN BORTON T he annual ritual of anointing the top high school perform- ers in the nation has reached u n p re c e d e n t e d h e i g h t s . Michigan's own "Signing Of The Stars" extravaganza last February un- derscored college football's hunger for hailing and projecting potential. Some can't-miss stars do miss. They get injured, or get distracted, or can't handle academics, or just cannot translate high school dominance into college-level stardom. Five-star performers flame out, hurtling into the abyss of those about whom the sky seemed the limit, but who never made it past the dorm room ceiling. Rashan Gary appears to be quickly jettisoning any hint of such a shortfall. Everybody's (Prep) All-American, the 6-5, 287-pound defensive end out of Plainfield, N.J., is hurtling like a comet toward quarterbacks these days. He's fitting into a rotation of defen- sive linemen full of NFL talent, play- ers three and four years older than him. He's making his way into offen- sive backfields, all the while making his way through his first few months as a college student. While he's hitting the books to ful- fill the hardline directives of his mom, Jennifer Coney, he's also proving a willing student in the video room and on the practice fields. If one can be a wholly humble national prep player of the year, Gary fills the bill. Gary's prep credentials were impec- cable: • 2015 USA Today All-USA Defen- sive Player of the Year • USA Today High School All-Amer- ica first team • Team Highlight MVP in the 2016 Under Armour All-America Game • Consensus five-star prospect by Rivals, Scout, 247Sports and ESPN • Rated by the four recognized scouting services as the No. 1 prep performer in the nation All of that and $75 will get one a ticket to the homecoming game against Illinois at Michigan Stadium, as far as the college level is concerned. Gary doesn't need a ticket. He's writ- ing his own. Halfway through the regular season of his true freshman year, he's proven he can hang with the big boys. His 20 tackles include a nine-yard sack against Central Florida and five tack- les for loss. Moreover, his strength and quick- ness demonstrated early on that Gary isn't any five-star swing and a miss. "Look at him over there," fifth-year senior defensive lineman and U-M captain Chris Wormley noted at a press conference early in the season. "He's a freshman. He's what, 18 years old? He's 6-5, 290, an unbelievable pass rusher, quick off the ball. He's a fast learner. "You put all of that together as a freshman, and it's something special that is brewing. He's a good kid. He plays hard, he plays fast and he just wants to win." He's winning big so far, along with his teammates. Gary has also been preparing to win for quite a while now. PREPARATORY DAYS Coney exerted a loving hand in Gary's development, from his first sixth-grade football effort on a junior high team. He played only two games in a season truncated by organiza- tional issues surrounding the squad, but it didn't take a full slate of games to see the very large youngster could make an impact — literally. He recalled starting football in ear- nest as an eighth grader, but quickly receiving a real-world reminder about priorities. "I got a 'C' in my reading class," Gary noted. "Of course, she wasn't happy about that, so I had to miss four games." Gary moved to live with his father in Scotch Plains, N.J., in junior high, but returned to the rougher Plainfield neighborhood and his mom midway through his high school career. She then made a decision that set him on a course for greater success. She enrolled him at Paramus Catho- lic High School, a full 45 minutes from their home. This wasn't going to be easy, but it was going to get done, Coney vowed. The personable and humble Gary quickly won over the staff at Para- mus, but the prep football star always received a little extra prodding from the woman helping his future unfold. Coney not only continued to stress the preeminence of academics (he wound up with a 3.8 GPA), she played en- forcer against the crush of high school celebrity. When he excelled on the field and the college offers came pouring in, Gary recalled his mom shielding him from the seedy side of the process. "My recruitment, just me and my mom handled it," Gary said. "When stuff like that [undue pressure] came my way, my mom would block me from it. I didn't get any of it — maybe she did." Those around him in high school marvel at how untainted Gary re- mained on social media, an outlet that has derailed — or at least sidetracked — a number of hotshot high schoolers in recent years. Again, Coney exerted an influence. She's still very prominently in the picture, having come to Ann Arbor for early games and beaming from the stands in Michigan's 78-0 rampage past Rutgers in High Point Solutions Stadium Oct. 8. She knows he's safely in the hands of several other teachers and mentors now, including some not many years older than he. SHAPED BY BIG BROTHERS Gary gives up praise quickly and effusively to his instructors on Michi- gan's redoubtable defensive line. "Taco [Charlton] and Chris Worm- ley — those are my big brothers," Gary said. "Anything I need, any question I have, I'm their little brother. I see them walk by and go, 'It's good, big bro.' That's how close the bond is. "They've welcomed me with open arms, took me under their wing and IN A RUSH Freshman Rashan Gary Makes His Presence Felt Quickly Gary contributed 20 total stops, five tackles for loss and a sack in his first six games for the Wolverines. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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