The Wolverine

December 2017

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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74 THE WOLVERINE DECEMBER 2017 T here's a little secret you may or may not know about sports reporters who cover one team on a beat … When it comes to their knowledge about other play- ers and teams around the country, a lot of them aren't much more educated than your average sports junkie. Some might call them downright lazy, in fact, when it comes to voting for all-con- ference teams, All-America squads and the like. But in our — er, their — defense, they spend so much time covering their own teams in this day and age that there isn't much time to watch other games, so we — uh, they — often use stats, how a player performed against the team they cover, etc., to help fill out their postseason ballots. That would partially help explain why nose tackle Mau- rice Hurst Jr. didn't make any of the All-Big Ten teams last year. He fin- ished with 34 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in playing behind some elite defensive linemen. He had good, not great numbers, but stats didn't tell the entire story of his contribution. He was often in the backfield, altering plays and hurrying quarterbacks, and was a critical part of the defense. He probably should have at least made honorable mention All-Big Ten, and he was no doubt disappointed. At the same time, his response spoke volumes about his character. "Happy for all those who won awards today," he tweeted Nov. 29, 2016. "I'm All-Big Ten in my mom- ma's eyes. That's all that matters." This year, he's leaving no doubt, for momma or anyone else. In Oc- tober, called him the "best player in the country regardless of position." Analyst Josh Liskiewitz said he'd be stunned if Hurst wasn't a top-15 pick in the NFL Draft, and as of Nov. 12 he'd al- ready put up 50 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. He was officially credited with only two quarterback hurries, but he was in the backfield so often … well, it was too often to count. "He's just dominant in every single phase," Liskiewitz said. "He reminds me of Gerald McCoy [No. 3 overall NFL Draft pick in 2010 by Tampa Bay, where he is a five-time Pro Bowler] when he was at Okla- homa in that he's just completely unblockable up front. "He has an explosive first step, and guys just can't stay with him." In the last 40 years of Michigan football, only one player — All- American Mark Messner in the mid- 1980s — might have been as quick off the ball. Hurst has a gift for it, a trait defensive coordinator Don Brown called special. "I had this guy Kendall Reyes at Connecticut who was the [49th] pick in the [2012] draft, and he was very similar," the coach said. "Mo might have a little bit more boom. When he comes off the ball it's like boom, but it's also instinct. "The thing I think Mo does so well is he understands when the ball is going to be snapped. Some guys have no clue. He has that. When he comes off, he's in a bad mood. We give him some freedom to run around in our pass rush stuff." Hurst could have bolted for the NFL after last year, and nobody would have blamed him. He's been open with his story about growing up hav- ing not known his NFL father of the same name, a seven- year cornerback with the New England Patriots. He's told us how his mother canceled her cable subscription in order to save money so she could make more frequent trips from Massachusetts to Ann Arbor to see him play, and how his desire is to make her happy. He's spoken of his trials and tribulations, his pain of not feeling wanted by his biological father, his side job as Ann Arbor's most famous Uber driver and more, offering a glimpse of who he is when he's not wearing the winged helmet. More than anything, he's proven to be a special student-athlete, something his teammates knew long ago. "He will probably have the option to leave, but knowing Mo and his expectations for himself ... my gut feeling is he'll come back and have a great year next year," Chris Worm- ley, now with the Baltimore Ravens, said after spending time with his friend last winter just before the deadline to enter the draft. He was right on all counts. Soon enough, Hurst will prob- ably be making his momma happy in ways he could only have imagined as a kid growing up in Massachusetts. It couldn't happen to a more de- serving guy. ❏ 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 @Balas_Wolverine. INSIDE MICHIGAN   CHRIS BALAS One Of A Kind After the first 10 weeks of the college football season, Pro Football Focus gave fifth-year senior Maurice Hurst Jr. a 95.0 season-long grade, the highest for any defender and second nationally only to Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield (95.4). PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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