The Wolverine

November 2012

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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MAIZE N' VIEW MICHAEL SPATH last November, and then, his worst. The middle linebacker missed tackles, blew assignments and generally raised the ire of his coaches in Michigan's overtime Sugar Bowl vic- tory over Virginia Tech. But all that was in the past. Coming into his final season, the veteran among two rising sophomore standouts at the linebacker position, Demens figured to be an anchor defen- sively for the Wolverines. Instead, he continued to K enny Demens was playing the best football of his career Demens' Resurgence Has Been Key you've earned back." For Demens, the key was rediscovering the player he was when he forced Ezeh out of the starting lineup. That linebacker re- corded 71 tackles in seven starts, hitting double digits against Penn State (12), Illinois (10), Wisconsin (a career-high 13) and Missis- sippi State (13 again). That defender reacted to the play in front of him, locked on and attacked the football, allowing no blocker to stand in his way. struggle, seeing his snaps go to true freshman Joe Bolden for long stretches against Alabama, Air Force and Massachusetts in the first three weeks of the season. That's when Demens knew something had to change if he didn't want his se- nior year to follow that of Obi Ezeh, who spent the final seven games of his last campaign largely on the sideline watching a younger, more instinctual athlete (Demens himself as a sophomore) earn his reps. "I was thinking too much," Demens said. "The ball is the is- sue — that's what Coach Mattison preaches. 'You have a gap assign- ment. Secure your gap, but at the end of the day, get to the football.'" Demens had just 12 total tackles in U-M's first three games — his 4.0 tackles per game well below the 8.3 stops he averaged in his first 20 career starts — while Bolden was matching his effort with 12, showing a knack for flowing to the football and making the type of big plays the coaches wanted to see. He was re- warded with Demens' playing time. "You have to choose how you're going to respond," said former safety Charles Stewart, who fought off younger teammates to earn a significant role in 2008. "Some guys will put their head down and give up, and some guys will fight harder and harder to get their spot back. Kenny Demens, a fifth-year senior linebacker, recorded 48 tackles through Michigan's first eight games this season, good for third-best on the Wolverines. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN "Especially that late in your career you can get discouraged because there's not a lot of time left. But you have to make a decision to get your job back. "You're the senior, you've been through the ups and downs, and you just can't settle for playing sec- ond fiddle." It is easy to fall into a trap late in your career said James Rogers, another senior that kept under- classman teammates at bay during the 2010 season, almost taking for granted the opportunity before you. "At this level, you're playing football year-round, and you can get tired because you're doing the same thing over and over again. You just get comfortable and think you'll turn it on on Saturdays," said Rogers, a cornerback. "But it doesn't happen that way. If you're going through the motions, you'll struggle and the next thing you know, your job's gone, and you have to prove yourself all over again. "It's reality-check time when you get replaced, especially by a fresh- man because that's an insult. That's more on you usually than based on what they did. You realize you're not entitled to anything, and so you have to dig in and get the position 122 THE WOLVERINE NOVEMBER 2012 out there and just do what I'm used to — making plays." "Just make plays," De- mens said, adopting his own personal slogan. "I told myself that I wasn't going to be afraid to make mistakes. I'm going to go Though his numbers haven't spiked dramatically — the senior had six stops against Notre Dame, six against Purdue, eight against Illi- nois, six against Michigan State and a season-high 10 against Nebraska — his impact has been greater, and Bolden is only seeing snaps now within the normal flow of rotating defenders for rest. Demens has reclaimed his starting job, and is a significant reason why the overall defense has begun to re- alize its potential this season. "It takes a strong person to over- come losing your spot and getting it back," Stewart said. "Maybe you're more motivated as a senior but you can also get more frustrated. "It shows a lot of character that he's gone through this and bounced back so quickly. A lot of guys get benched and they just stay there. But he didn't give up. "If he keeps playing the way he's been playing, he'll have a senior year to remember." u Associate Editor Michael Spath has been with The Wolverine since 2002. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @Spath_ Wolverine.

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