The Wolverine

February 2017

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 73 of 75

74 THE WOLVERINE FEBRUARY 2017 M ichigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh brought laughs at one of Monday press conferences this fall when he introduced Freddie P. Soft as an enemy of the U-M football program. He, however, never cracked a smile in explaining who — and just how danger- ous — Mr. Soft was. "He's a four-inch [tall] guy that wears a cape and a hat with a plume in it," Harbaugh said. "He's just tall enough to talk right into your ear and tell you that you don't have to practice today: 'Why are you work- ing so hard? Get over there in the shade. You don't need to attack with enthusiasm unknown to mankind today. Take a break. Take a knee.' "He's not a guy you want around, got to get him off your shoulders as fast as possible." According to some critics, the little guy has made his way to the basketball facilities this winter. John Beilein's Wolverines lacked what is needed to compete in a well-bal- anced Big Ten, they argued, because they simply weren't tough enough. Illinois' players were among them after an 85-69 win in Champaign Jan. 11. They essentially mocked the Wolverines in calling them a "white- collar team" — and it didn't seem to matter to them that a rematch at Crisler Center was only 10 days away. Senior wing and captain Zak Ir- vin's expression changed when asked if he'd heard the Chirpin' Illini. "Yeah, um … we talked about it. That's just kind of a 'stay inside the locker room' deal," he said. "But definitely, a couple of our guys were talking about it after the game and saw them make that comment. We're looking forward to Nebraska [a 91-85 Michigan win Jan. 14], but we will see them again. We'll be looking for that matchup … I'm looking forward to it." Talk is just talk, of course, but the Wolverines did play with more of an edge in the win over Nebraska Jan. 14. They still weren't good defen- sively, but whenever the Cornhusk- ers counter-punched, U-M came up with big plays to stay a step ahead and pull out a big win over a solid team. Beilein has been his team's harsh- est critic at times this year in talking about the need to play with more grit and determination, but he de- fended his kids after the game. "I think that's the first time they've ever heard that type of thing, and it's motivation, certainly, for them," Beilein said of the comments. "Our edge, I've talked about it … but we do not have a bunch of white-collar kids. "We have kids that are tough, hungry, trying to get better every day. It's just not as natural to them, and they've got to do that." There's nothing wrong with being a white-collar kid anyway, he added. "I've worn a white shirt like this on every day and I'm okay," he quipped, grabbing at his collar. "And I was one scrappy guy growing up." At some point, though, you are who you are. Former captain Zack Novak was a fiery guy who lifted those around him with his effort and his leadership, once exploding on the side- line in an epic — uh, speech — at Michigan State that helped will the Wolverines to a victory. There's nobody on this team with a similar personal- ity, but there doesn't necessar- ily have to be. Nobody's ask- ing them to be Walter White of "Breaking Bad" — just to say "enough's enough" when a guy goes up and grabs rebounds over them, or to re- spond with more pride when they're beaten on defense. Down the stretch against Nebraska, four guys were playing man-to-man de- fense while one was in zone because he wasn't paying attention. "Coaches can only do so much," Irvin said. "We're the ones out there. If teams think we're a white-collar team or don't like to get dirty, that falls back on us. We're the ones out there playing." Because you can still be a "good kid," the kind Beilein recruits, yet play with pride and swagger. No- vak, Stu Douglass, Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas, Darius Morris, etc. … they are all prime examples. You don't have to be the most tal- ented player to make an impact on a team — but if you're not, you'd better not be outworked and out-toughed. "It doesn't feel good [to hear that]," junior Muhammad-Ali Abdur- Rahkman said of the Illinois players' comments. "I've never seen myself as a white-collar player or anything like that, so I especially don't like that. "We'll have our chance [to show we aren't], and I don't think it will be the same." It's past time for this group to prove it. ❏ Chris Balas has been with The Wolver- ine since 1997, working part time for five years before joining the staff full time in 2002. Contact him at cbalas@ and follow him on Twitter at Balas_Wolverine. INSIDE MICHIGAN   CHRIS BALAS It's Time For Boys To Become Men John Beilein's squad started 1-3 in Big Ten play, but did pick up its second conference victory with a 91-85 win over Nebraska Jan. 14. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Wolverine - February 2017