The Wolverine

January 2017

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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30 THE WOLVERINE JANUARY 2017 BY JOHN BORTON T aco Charlton went from start- ing one game for a 5-7 team two years ago to a first-team All-Big Ten performer on a crew sporting double-digit victories as a senior. It's safe to say, both Charlton and Michigan advanced a bit over the past two years. Charlton became an edge-rushing force for Jim Harbaugh's second squad in Ann Arbor, posting 8.5 sacks among 11 tackles for loss in his final regular season. His 2.5-sack effort at Ohio State thrust him more prominently into the NFL Draft conversation. Like Michigan's other seniors, though, he'll always feel the slightly melancholy swirl of "what if" vapors when it comes to the conclusion of his career. These days, the truest gut reactions of many 22-year-olds can be found on social media. A Charlton tweet on Dec. 4 shouted what a host of press confer- ence offerings might not. The senior lamented: "The fact that 4 POINTS is the difference between us and being an undefeated ball club is what kills me." He had plenty of company in that sports world morbidity. Michigan se- niors sold out to win it all — a confer- ence championship, perhaps a national title. A one-point loss at Iowa and the infuriating 30-27 double-overtime de- feat in Columbus marked the stum- bling blocks to perfection. The final near miss affected them all, including the head coach, who deliv- ered $10,000 worth of excoriating com- mentary on Big Ten officiating after the loss at OSU. Harbaugh knows as well as anyone about near misses, and this just felt wrong for all of those who won't get a second chance. In 1985, a Jim Harbaugh-quarter- backed crew of Wolverines missed perfection by fewer than a handful of points. A 10-1-1 Michigan squad lost at Iowa, 12-10, and two games later tied at Illinois, 3-3, winding up No. 2 in the nation after a Fiesta Bowl victory over Nebraska. The present Wolverines will carry their own near-miss season with a mix of pride and hint of agonizing if-only. For someone who grew up 15 minutes away from Ohio Stadium and chose to venture north, the bruise might last a bit. WHAT'S IN A NAME? Charlton came into the world on Nov. 7, 1994, bearing the given name of "Vidauntae." Somewhere along the line, the women in his life delivered the zesty alternative appellation. "My mom and my grandma came up with the name [Taco] and gave it to me," Charlton recalled. "It was some- thing that stuck, and something I've always gone by. It was my name from there on. "When I was a kid, I actually didn't like tacos, because that's what people thought my name was about. Now I love tacos. I eat tacos all the time, whether it's Taco Bell or making my own tacos." There's an endorsement deal just waiting to happen, when Charlton turns in his No. 33 in maize and blue for a professional contract. He's fully embraced the culinary offerings that make him jump off the roster page in a Michigan game program. "I eat them all — fish, beef, chicken," he said. "I'm never scared to try some- thing. "You know, I like the crunch gordita [from Taco Bell], so you got the soft with the hard inside. You get a little taste of both worlds. I do a little bit of both, but when you put both together, you make it even better." The fun-loving Charlton clearly doesn't lack enjoyment over his Taco title. He still laughs at the memory of a fan tweeting at him a picture of himself adorned in a taco shell costume. But his own soft exterior when it comes to interactions turns hard when he steps on the field and begins doing his own crunching. A four-year letterman at Pickering- ton Central High, Charlton demon- strated early on he'd be one to watch. He broke up eight passes when only a sophomore. By the time his senior season rolled around, he'd become an Associated Press Division I All-Ohio first-teamer, with 116 tackles, 24 tackle for loss and 19 sacks. Taking the next step is never easy, and Charlton felt his way through the final two years of Michigan's previous regime. He posted a combined 21 tack- les, with 3.5 sacks among six tackles for loss during that period. He thought — like most standout prep performers — he was capable of much more. His final two seasons af- firmed his every notion of attaining a higher plane. As a junior and senior, Charlton posted a combined 68 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks. His 8.5 sacks this season reflected both his own growth and the high-pressure style of defensive coordinator Don Brown. "Coach Brown is up tempo, loves the aggression, loves the hits," Charl- ton said. "He's laid the blueprint out there for being a physical defense." OVERCOMING TO RISE Charlton represents the sort of phys- ical specimen that can make any blue- print look better. At 6-6, 272, he main- tains the sort of speed off the edge that has NFL scouts keenly interested in his progression. Brown produced the No. 1 total de- fense in the nation at Boston College, just before coming to Michigan. He admitted to a high level of excitement and enthusiasm upon seeing what he inherited in Ann Arbor. Charlton possesses long arms to go with the lanky frame, to the point that he could turn John Beilein's head if he wasn't safely secured in Schembechler Hall. The senior defensive end recalled getting his wingspan measured, and although he couldn't put a specific THE SUPREME TACO Taco Charlton Is Looking To Close His Career With A Win ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Charlton as the No. 6 draft-eligible defensive end in the country. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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